Humans of New York photographer captures the humanity of the 'swarm of people coming across the Mediterranean'

The UK’s Prime Minister, David Cameron, recently faced heavy criticism for referring to refugees coming to Europe as “aswarm of people coming across the Mediterranean.”

But despite the backlash against Cameron, the public and politicians often fail to acknowledge the humanity at the core of the migrant crisis.

Enter Brandon Stanton, the photographer behind the hugely popular Humans of New York blog that gained popularity on Facebook and has now gathered more than 15 million likes.

In partnership with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Stanton recently visited various Greek islands as well as Austria, where he took pictures of refugees and UNHCR workers. Applying the same technique as he does in New York, Stanton posted portraits accompanied by a snippet from the people’s lives.

Doing that, he managed to put a human face to a crisis involving millions of people.

Over the years, Stanton has already branched out and travelled to Iran, Pakistan, Jordan, Ukraine, Vietnam, and many other countries to document the lives of locals there.

His latest expedition, however, and the resulting images combat the tendency to refer to the refugees as masses instead of individual people with stories and a reasons for abandoning their homes.

In one of the stories, a woman tells of how she and her husband gave all of their money to a smuggler, who then forced them onto a small, unsafe boat which sank between Turkey and Greece.

While the woman was eventually rescued, her husband is one of the over 3,000 people who died so far this year trying to cross the Mediterranean, according to the UNHCR.

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Most of the pictures posted by Stanton address why people left their countries. They also reflect the horror of Bashar al-Assad’s regime and living under ISIS rule.

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In this post, a man even describes the kind of torture he was subjected to after government troops decided he was informing the anti-Assad rebels.

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Almost every images shows that leaving was not a choice but a necessity. Many of the refugees Stanton talked to share stories of them fleeing from death and torture. One family describes how they were caught in the middle of the fighting.

“We had no options. Minding our own business was not a choice,” a Syrian refugee told Stanton.

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In a particularly poignant post, Stanton broke away from his usual format of accompanying pictures with quotes from the subject to describe how a little girl reacted when he asked where her mother was.

Many other posts also show or describe children and how much living through wars and fleeing their countries affected them.

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A series of six posts revolve around the same man who Stanton first met in Iraq. Through these, Muhammad recounts his journey from Syria to Austria.

The horrors of his journey resonated with many people and the last post in the series, showing Muhammad holding an Austrian passport, received over one million likes on Facebook.

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Stanton’s images make clear that the refugee crisis is first and foremost a humanitarian crisis and that the people are being forced to flee their countries in order to simply live.

And while the Europeans’ tolerance and readiness to help may start to fade in the coming years, the number of refugees entering Europe will only rise. Turkey just warned that 3 million more refugees could flee fighting in Syria. 

NOW WATCH: Here’s how the migrant crisis is spreading through Europe and the Middle East

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