A Million Shillings

by ALIXANDRA FAZZINA

Al-Baida, Yemen, May 2007. Illuminated by torchlight, the dead body of a man is discovered in shallow water at Al-Baida Beach. Bloody marks around his face reveal that he had sustained a heavy beating prior to being thrown into the sea.

Al-Baida, Yemen, May 2007. Illuminated by torchlight, the dead body of a man is discovered in shallow water at Al-Baida Beach. Bloody marks around his face reveal that he had sustained a heavy beating prior to being thrown into the sea.

Across the Horn of Africa, war, abuse and poverty make millions miserable and drive thousands to attempt to flee. With land borders cut off or closed, and surrounded by conflict on all sides, one of the only means of escape is by sea.

This series is presented in the book “A Million Shillings” (Trolley) and follows the journey of desperate emigrants, or tahrib, to their embarkation points with smugglers on the coast of Somalia, on a perilous voyage across the Gulf of Aden, and onward in the search for a better life. The cost is just $50, or one million Somali shillings.

Bosasso, Somalia, January 2007. Watching over a group of refugees at one of his network's safe houses hidden deep in Bossaso town’s back streets, thirty-four year old “big fish” smuggler Omar lights a cigarette.Working at sea since he was a teenager, Omar spent years helping local fishermen to hunt down sharks for their fins but illegal commercial fishing put an end to the business. He involved himself instead in the arms trade, ferrying weapons to and from Yemen.

Bosasso, Somalia, January 2007. Watching over a group of refugees at one of his network's safe houses hidden deep in Bossaso town’s back streets, thirty-four year old “big fish” smuggler Omar lights a cigarette.Working at sea since he was a teenager, Omar spent years helping local fishermen to hunt down sharks for their fins but illegal commercial fishing put an end to the business. He involved himself instead in the arms trade, ferrying weapons to and from Yemen.

Bir Ali, Yemen - May 2007. Having arrived in the middle of the night following a fifty-seven hour long voyage from Somalia, dawn breaks over a group of Ethiopian migrants and refugees at a sandy beach near Bir Ali on Yemen’s southern coast.

Al-Kharaz, Yemen - April, 2008. Utterly exhausted, a group of Somali refugees crouch down beneath an illuminated signboard reading, “You are welcome to UNHCR Kharaz”.

Desperate and in fear for their lives, there is one feasible means of escape from this beleaguered country. With the longest coastline if Africa, tens of thousands each year turn to the sea.

With a one in twenty chance of not making it to the other side alive, it is a price they must risk their lives for. Even then, it is a journey which for many will remain unfinished. Alixandra Fazzina worked over a period of two years to chronicle the exodus of migrants and refugees from Somalia to the Arabian Peninsula. For her work on “A Million Shillings – Escape From Somalia”, she was a finalist in the CARE Award for Humanitarian Reportage and the W. Eugene Smith Grant in Humanistic Photography.

Djibouti, Djibouti, March, 2008. Nine year old Kali Abduhi Omar stares at her reflection in the screen of a broken television set as she sits in a make-shift room in one of Djiboutiville’s illicit doss houses.Following a mortar strike on her family’s home in central Mogadishu, Kali and her younger brother have just arrived in Djibouti after spending weeks on the road in a bid to escape Somalia.

Djibouti, Djibouti, March, 2008. Nine year old Kali Abduhi Omar stares at her reflection in the screen of a broken television set as she sits in a make-shift room in one of Djiboutiville’s illicit doss houses.Following a mortar strike on her family’s home in central Mogadishu, Kali and her younger brother have just arrived in Djibouti after spending weeks on the road in a bid to escape Somalia.

Bosasso, Somalia, December, 2007. Situated on the main Mogadishu Road, the colloquially named "Moqdishu Restaurant" is one of the first stopping off points for migrants and refugees heading north from the capital on their way across the Gulf of Aden to Yemen.

Bosasso, Somalia, December, 2007. Situated on the main Mogadishu Road, the colloquially named "Moqdishu Restaurant" is one of the first stopping off points for migrants and refugees heading north from the capital on their way across the Gulf of Aden to Yemen.

Somalia, Bosasso, January 2007, Militia make their way in a pick-up truck along the rocky coastal road heading east from Bosasso.

Somalia, Bosasso, January 2007, Militia make their way in a pick-up truck along the rocky coastal road heading east from Bosasso.

After restless days and weeks spent thinking of loved ones left behind and dreaming of uncertain life that may lied ahead, the order to proceed can come suddenly without warning.

Djibouti, Djibouti, March, 2008. Fast asleep on sheets of cardboard, twenty eight year old Abas Hassan Ulusow spends the night out in the open on the rooftop of the Hanwari Shop in the centre of Djiboutiville. After fighting in Mogadishu devastated his house, Abas fled Somalia with the dream of making it to Yemen and being able to support his family.

Basatine, Yemen, March, 2008. Having just arrived in the slums of Aden, a young girl in a phone booth attempts to call relatives in Somalia to let them know she is safe. Her book contains contact details for her family and the numbers of smugglers in Yemen that she hopes will eventually take her to Saudi Arabia.

Basatine, Yemen, March, 2008. Having just arrived in the slums of Aden, a young girl in a phone booth attempts to call relatives in Somalia to let them know she is safe. Her book contains contact details for her family and the numbers of smugglers in Yemen that she hopes will eventually take her to Saudi Arabia.

The tahrib never move too far from the few belongings they have brought. They learn to conceal the items that are precious to them for fear of robbery or being drenched out at the sea.

Fuwwa, Yemen, May 2008. Soaking wet and covered in sand, groups of newly arrived Somali migrants huddle together on the beach at Fuwwah as they try to keep warm.

Fuwwa, Yemen, May 2008. Soaking wet and covered in sand, groups of newly arrived Somali migrants huddle together on the beach at Fuwwah as they try to keep warm.

Djibouti, Djibouti, March, 2008. Covering their bodies with tattered blankets and veils, a group of thirty female refugees spend the night sleeping along the pavement in Djiboutiville’s Rue Issa.

Djibouti, Djibouti, March, 2008. Covering their bodies with tattered blankets and veils, a group of thirty female refugees spend the night sleeping along the pavement in Djiboutiville’s Rue Issa.

Basatine, Yemen, March, 2008. Back in the slums of Basatine, Mohamed returns late in the evening after a fruitless day spent walking Aden’s streets in search of work. Having arrived in Yemen from Bossaso two months ago, Mohamed is just one of just eleven men to have survived a perilous journey across the Gulf of Aden. He is still traumatized, having witnessed one hundred of the other passengers on board the tiny boat drown as they capsized at sea.

Basatine, Yemen, March, 2008. Back in the slums of Basatine, Mohamed returns late in the evening after a fruitless day spent walking Aden’s streets in search of work. Having arrived in Yemen from Bossaso two months ago, Mohamed is just one of just eleven men to have survived a perilous journey across the Gulf of Aden. He is still traumatized, having witnessed one hundred of the other passengers on board the tiny boat drown as they capsized at sea.

Basatine, Yemen, March, 2008. Carrying his wordly possessions in a small backpack, a newly arrived "cowboy" makes his way from the dusty bus station as he takes his first steps in the slums of Basatine.

Basatine, Yemen, March, 2008. Carrying his wordly possessions in a small backpack, a newly arrived "cowboy" makes his way from the dusty bus station as he takes his first steps in the slums of Basatine.

"In contrast to the haven they expected to find at the end of the long journey from Africa's Horn, the squalor, overcrowding and lack of opportunity in Aden pushes many disconected refugees further afield in their bid to establish more satisfactory life"

- Alixandra Fazzina

Sana'a, Yemen, March 2008. Sharifa has lost count of the number of times she has had to move house since arriving in Yemen eight years ago. “Yemen is worse. Here we have to lock the children in all day while we work. You know what Somalia is like...we came here to save ourselves but what can we do?”

Sana'a, Yemen, March 2008. Sharifa has lost count of the number of times she has had to move house since arriving in Yemen eight years ago. “Yemen is worse. Here we have to lock the children in all day while we work. You know what Somalia is like...we came here to save ourselves but what can we do?”

Shimbiro, Somalia, November, 2007. Standing in choppy shoulder deep water, Somali refugees look back anxiously from the sea as they try to locate friends and relatives left behind on Shimbiro Beach. Preparing to board one of three smuggler’s boats that will depart simultaneously for Yemen, many of the passengers have become separated from those that they had hoped to make this high-risk journey with.

Shimbiro, Somalia, November, 2007. Standing in choppy shoulder deep water, Somali refugees look back anxiously from the sea as they try to locate friends and relatives left behind on Shimbiro Beach. Preparing to board one of three smuggler’s boats that will depart simultaneously for Yemen, many of the passengers have become separated from those that they had hoped to make this high-risk journey with.

Bir Ali, Yemen, May, 2007. Having been washed ashore with the morning tide, a row of corpses line Al-Baida Beach at dawn. Hauled from the water by fellow voyagers, a total of thirty-four bodies were found at sunrise as they slowly drifted inland. Just one week after an almost identical tragedy saw thirty dead on a nearby beach, Somali smugglers continue to drop their human cargo out at sea without regard for life rather than coming close to shore and risking detection. Having paid a million shillings each, for the survivors that have now finally made it to Yemen, the realisation of just what a gamble they have taken with their own destinies hits home. Most sit weeping, having spent the night looking for lost relatives, or simply in shock at the mortality that surrounds them.

Bir Ali, Yemen, May, 2007. Having been washed ashore with the morning tide, a row of corpses line Al-Baida Beach at dawn. Hauled from the water by fellow voyagers, a total of thirty-four bodies were found at sunrise as they slowly drifted inland. Just one week after an almost identical tragedy saw thirty dead on a nearby beach, Somali smugglers continue to drop their human cargo out at sea without regard for life rather than coming close to shore and risking detection. Having paid a million shillings each, for the survivors that have now finally made it to Yemen, the realisation of just what a gamble they have taken with their own destinies hits home. Most sit weeping, having spent the night looking for lost relatives, or simply in shock at the mortality that surrounds them.


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