Every year thousands of refugees come to Iceland seeking shelter. Only 10% of them receive the right to live here. Those denied have to continue their journey in search for a home. Even though we only accept 10% of people who come here, it is considered easier to get the right to live here than in other countries. A fact that, to me, feels like a reflection of how serious the refugee situation is in the world. Everyone has a right to live safely and peacefully yet in the current state of the world, millions of refugees are displaced and seeking shelter. I wanted to document the journey of refugees in Iceland.

I thought about how I only had an outside view of the situation and I wanted to show what traveling through the system in Iceland was like. All of the images are based on real stories and experiences and each person in the photo is a refugee seeking shelter in Iceland. Before the shoot, my team and I had a long discussion with them to get to know them and their stories. I wanted to create images that told their story and would be a reminder of what is happening in the world and how often, maybe because of the 10% we are lauded for, we forget the people who travel here looking for safety, whether they receive asylum or not.

Most of the images show the struggle of their journey across the sea, others show the importance of unity and teamwork and the sadness of their losses.

In the picture with the father and son, his wife could not be in the picture as she is currently being searched for out in the world. She was standing beside me while I took the picture. She had an arranged marriage in her home country and fled with her true love and had a son with him in Iceland. Her family did not accept this and did not think that he could make her happy. I printed the quote “I’m just a soul whose intentions are good, please don’t let me be misunderstood” on the thermal blanket to show that their intentions are purely for the sake of love but her family misunderstood them.

The lifebuoy picture constructed of the cast represents the importance of teamwork on their long journey. I wanted to translate the unforgiving climates they’ve had to endure by using raw and unfiltered lightning. I made the poses interesting and the compositions odd to give the images further power. Shooting it from unorthodox angles like the aerial view, giving the viewer a bird-eye view to making him feel both present yet at a distance from the situation. I dressed them in Icelandic sailor suits or second-hand clothes from the Red Cross, if no clothing was involved thermal blankets were the choice which is necessary equipment for keeping warm, I wanted the styling to be true while giving the images strong contrast.

The separation that people feel from refugees or those displaced or the stigma and stereotypes attached makes it easier to feel removed from the situation or to only see the concern to your country rather than the problem and threat to human life. We need to address these problems and solutions are needed. Artists like myself, we have the power to expose and share problems and tell people’s stories to the world through the work we produce.

Photography: Viðar Logi
Stylist: Arna Björg
Creative direction: Viðar Logi and Arna Björg
Cast: Omar Shamsudin, Emin, Ra Ali, Multitask Yusuf, Milad