Warren Richardson Meet the photographer who walked with refugees

Cover Image - Warren Richardson

Warren Richardson is an Australian photographer who spent two months walking with refugees trying to make their way through Eastern Europe. This picture, taken on the Hungary/Serbia border of a baby being passed through a fence to its family, was named the 2016 World Press Photo of the Year.

Since 2016, we’ve partnered with the World Press Photo awards to tell the stories behind the best photojournalism around, in the photographers' own words. See the whole series here.

It was on a very cool night. There would have been about 200 Syrian refugees waiting on the Serbian side of the order. There was a full moon in the sky – you can see the illumination of the man and the baby.

We were playing cat and mouse with the Hungarian police all night. Before this picture was taken, they came to this very spot and we had to hide in the grass about 20 metres away. We all laid down flat, all the phones had to be off and all the babies had to be held by their parents to keep them quiet.

The police were yelling. They tried to fix the fence and then they pepper sprayed us. They didn’t know we were there but they suspected we were there. We had to cover the children because if they would have started coughing or crying, that would have given us away.

When this picture was taken, people were like sheep running one by one, as fast as possible. There was a group of six guys, they were Syrian engineers, and they stayed the whole time to allow every refugee that was with them under the fence. They were the last to leave. It shows their dedication to each other; they had been helping each other all the way since Syria.

This photo I didn’t even shoot from my eye. I was standing inside a trench looking up, one foot completely extended and one foot right up into my chest. The only way I could get it was to shoot it from my hip.

Over the five nights I was there I watched at least 30,000 refugees pass, if not more. To me, as a photographer, it was a very overwhelming experience because you never know what to expect.

I had a run-in with a couple of Iraqi guys who thought I was a copper because I came towards them with a torch., They got a stick ready to hit me and I said, ‘No, no, I am a photographer.’ And another Syrian yelled out that I wasn’t a threat, that I knew the way to the border. Before I knew it, I had 500 people following me.

I stopped and said, ‘There is the official way and there are other ways I can’t tell you.’ They stopped and were all on their phones, trying to find out what their friends were saying in front of them. And at the same time you have people smugglers coming out of nowhere.

The desperation is huge. It’s a tough, tough situation. On my walk I lived with refugees for about two months. I was told I broke all the rules of journalism, that you don’t get involved with the subjects. But I work for myself, I get to make a choice. That’s the difference.

As far as I am concerned they are as much as my own family as my own son. I was another man with a camera, but I came across a bit differently because there were times I was walking with the kids on my shoulders because I could see the old men were exhausted.

It is part of my nature that I want to get involved. We are all teachers and we are all students; we all have something to teach and something to learn.