This Will Forever Change How You See Refugees

Photo: Courtesy of Milan Radisics.
Hungary has made headlines for taking harsh measures against refugees and migrants fleeing violence and poverty in the Middle East and North Africa. The world is currently experiencing the worst refugee crisis since World War II, according to the European Commission, and Hungary has been a major entry point for people hoping to resettle across Europe.

In response, Hungary has revised its refugee laws to allow the Hungarian army to use "rubber bullets, teargas, and net guns" on immigrants crossing its borders, according to the BBC. It's the latest measure in the country's harsh stance toward refugees and migrants, which has been criticized by human rights groups.

"They are over-running us," Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban said. "They're not just banging on the door, they're breaking the doors down on top of us. Our borders are under threat. Hungary is under threat and so is the whole of Europe."

But many citizens in Hungary have struggled with the juxtaposition of the often-dehumanizing language their government uses and the people they meet on these desperate journeys. Understanding and sharing the faces of the refugee crisis was one of the reasons Milan Radisics picked up his camera.

Radisics is a graphic designer, editor, and freelance photographer based in Hungary. His work has previously been published in the Hungarian, Serbian, and Russian editions of National Geographic.

"I am storyteller with my camera, and I learned to show topics from different aspects and different points of view," Radisics told Refinery29 in an email.

"The topic of refugees is a hot issue right now and attracts many photographers. Many of them captured great scenes and unrepeatable moments. But [with my work], I wanted to show emotions without any surroundings that might color the image. I wanted to show the story in unusual way, through only one means: people's faces, and, more precisely, through their eyes, which are like the windows of our soul," he said.

To produce these striking portraits, Radisics said he used a special type of lens and a shallow depth of field to blur the background and focus in on individual faces. Rarely does he ever learn their names or their stories; many do not feel comfortable sharing those details as they flee, although Radisics said he always asks permission before he photographs anyone.

"I wanted to focus attention to their personalities, to allow their faces to talk for themselves. I wanted to tell stories without words, without colors, without any surrounding signs. Just from the soul," Radisics said.

Radisics shares his perspective and his photographs with Refinery29 from his home in Budapest.

Photo caption: An anonymous refugee child holds his toys while waiting at a Hungarian train station on September 6. For information on how you can help refugees, read more here.
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Photo: Courtesy of Milan Radisics.
What is the situation like on the ground in Hungary now? How are refugees being treated?
"Compared to the end of August and the beginning of September, the situation here in Budapest is okay now. We have only a few refugees in transit and so many of them are in camps. In the last few days, the Hungarian government closed the borders, built fences, and then changed the rules of identifying [people as refugees]. It has caused a lot of refugees to change their route. They now go to Croatia, to Ukraine, and so on."
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Photo: Courtesy of Milan Radisics.
"Before September 15, we received more than 10,0000 people on a daily basis. This huge number of people is hard to handle in any way. And the law of the European Union is so tricky. [Depending on] which country refugees step inside within the Union, they need to have identification, and only after a long process, they will be able to go forward. But the problem is that any country isn’t prepared with administration, food, and other infrastructure [to handle this]...

"It's also hard to differentiate. Many of them are refugees, but many of them are just looking for social benefits in Western countries."
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Photo: Courtesy of Milan Radisics.
"Refugees don’t believe anyone, just trusted sources, because they are afraid that somebody will take them to a camp, to prison, or drive them to wrong place," Radisics said.
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Photo: Courtesy of Milan Radisics.
What is the story behind this portrait?
"Among many refugees one day in early September, there was one family sitting on the stairs at the railway station. In her hands, the mother was holding a daughter who was a few months old. The other two girls played around her.

"I asked them for permission to take a picture...In this moment, one couple, about 50 years old, from Austria came to them and offered the family a gift in the form of train tickets to Vienna, Austria. The father of the family started to negotiate with them.

"It was so emotional, and this touched me deeply. My heart was completely broken. My tears blurred my sight and I hid myself behind my viewfinder. I didn't know whether I was behind the viewfinder to hide my tears or to capture this photograph.

"In the meantime, a few Hungarian moms reached where we were as well and gave us a packages of diapers. There was an eruption of emotions. To have a complete picture, I asked the mother [in this photo] to take a picture of her. After she received permission from her husband, I took just a few shots, because they had to go quickly to the train."
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Photo: Courtesy of Milan Radisics.
This little girl waited with her mother, father, and siblings at the train station until a couple gifted them tickets to Vienna, Austria, Radisics told Refinery29.
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Photo: Courtesy of Milan Radisics.
What does the world need to know now about Europe's refugee crisis?
"I am not an expert on this topic, but based on my experiences from the past few weeks, I believe there are four things to know. First, we need to stop wars in their countries, which are destroying their homes. Second, we need to think and act like human beings, not just see things from politicians' standpoints.

"We need to prepare for the worst-case scenarios in advance. And we need to create a common mission across platforms: law, media, charity organizations, politicians, and governments."
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Photo: Courtesy of Milan Radisics.
"About 70% of people give me their permission to photograph them and pose in front of camera happily. I can’t know why, or what is the real reason for that quiet happiness. But I think that he is glad even in bad circumstances here. Even the trek is much better than where they come from," Radisics said.
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Photo: Courtesy of Milan Radisics.
How has the media covered the refugee crisis? Has there been a lack of compassion?
"This topic is really hot right now. All the media outlets are there on the ground, but many of them cover this topic to serve political interests from opposite sides; or to hype circulation, in the case of magazines, or to increase their reach, in the case case of TV stations.

"That news is divisive: sometimes [the media] overreacts, sometimes it is true. In order to go closer to the truth, we need to put information together like a puzzle from all of the news appearing on social platforms. But for coverage of this issue to be understandable, there has to be one more factor as well. The situation changes every hour, and that makes it hard to see and broadcast real pictures."
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Photo: Courtesy of Milan Radisics.
What message do you hope to send with your photographs?
"I try to tell real stories that constitute a journey straight into each individual's own core. I think that I can show all of a person's personality through one single, but very naked, picture. My work explores a new dimension of life and art.

"What I hope to convey, put into a few words, is that we are all humans with deep souls, and [each of us] has long journey behind us."
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Photo: Courtesy of Milan Radisics.
"I have found that refugees throw away all of their identification before they start a long trip. Because of that, they don’t share their real names with anyone. That is the reason why I don't ask for this. But I always ask all of them for permission before I take a picture," Radisics said.
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Photo: Courtesy of Milan Radisics.
Radisics said he never learns the stories of some of the people he photographs, because they are in a hurry to keep traveling.
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Photo: Courtesy of Milan Radisics.
"In this photo, a boy from Afghanistan waits for convoy of cars from Austria in II. János Pápa Park, which has temporarily been called 'Afghan-Park,' because it is full of refugees arriving from Afghanistan," Radisics said.
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Photo: Courtesy of Milan Radisics.
"To help refugees, some people from Budapest draw them maps to help them understand the train system," Radisics said.
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Photo: Courtesy of Milan Radisics.
What is your advice to young people, especially young women, who want to do the kind of work you do?
"One of my golden rules is that we need to observe subjects deeply and try to recognize their real meanings in order to explore them fully.

"I combine that vision with technical aspects like the type of lens, shutter speed, depth of field, color, composition, perspective, lightning and of course, the right moment — to be able to do my work. I also believe that we always need to be up-to-date to be able to make something unique instead of repeating things we have already seen."
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