Christian Rølla has been working as a photographer for the past five years. He has drawn from many inspirations, including famed war photographer Robert Capa. Christian tells us he was inspired to this work by a combination of his activist proclivities and witnessing the power that a well-framed image can convey.
For his most recent project, he has decided to take photos of asylum seekers and refugees—well-known enough as subjects, except that Christian is not photographing migration lines or detention centres.
Rather, he is photographing these people in their homes.
“I was invited by Michelle Bird, who is the initiative taker on the project Home: Asylum Seekers And Artists,” he tells us. “She had come across some of the work I’ve done on internally displaced people (IDPs) in Kurdish Iraq. For me, this was a good opportunity to highlight the situation of asylum seekers who had managed to get to another country to live in peace.”
Of particular interest to him in Iceland were the Sabres, a family of asylum seekers who managed to make it to Iceland, but who have been struggling to be granted asylum here.
“From what I understand they went to Iceland because they had managed to google that Iceland was one of the most peaceful places on Earth, with low crime rates and so on,” Christian explains. “I wanted to do this because they are still just as unsafe as they were in Iraq, and maybe even more unsafe because they do not know the language, their rights, and so on. In addition to that, they do not have the network they are used to. So as a matter of fact they are virtually totally isolated, in insecurity and limbo in one of the safest countries in the world. That is a paradox and for me not right. So I wanted to try to tell their story through my photography. In addition to that we opened their home and had a exhibition and displayed my images in their home, so Icelanders could come, see and hear their story, and hopefully befriend the family.”
For all of Christian’s experience working with refugees and asylum seekers, there were still some surprises that came up in working with this particular family.
“What surprised me the most is the stress these people actually live under as they had their application for asylum rejected two times and got the final appeal,” he tells us. “And they receive no information on how their appeal is being processed. Imagine living in fear of being shipped to Norway any time, and then most probably being deported to Iraq, in which they have no home and where there are people who want to harm them. I have been working in war zones, and for me this was actually more stressful than that. Imagine how this is for them.”
People just like you and me
Christian’s goal, ultimately, is to try and “communicate their situation of insecurity, fear and the feeling of totally hopelessness and limbo. That they are people just like you and me. And just maybe, to put some pressure on [immigration] officials.”
Christian’s mission is far from over, and the horizons are still open for him.
“I am still working on IDPs and refugees in Kurdish Iraq,” he says. “So I’ll soon go back. There are, according to the UN, 2-3 million IDPs in Iraq. And in the aftermath of the Mosul and Raqqa operations it will be more. They need the world to help them.”