Pakistan

It was great to be acknowledged in the WA Journalism Media Awards last night with a win in the ‘Best Feature Photographic Essay’ category.  In July this year West Australian reporter Steve Pennells and I travelled to Pakistan in search of the families of asylum seekers whose boat sank of Christmas Island.  220 were aboard but only 109 were rescued.  Flying into Islamabad with little to go on, we visited refugee camps across the country’s north-west and then followed the trail of the missing asylum seekers to the town of Parachinar on the Afghan border.  Steve managed to track down more than two dozen families.  Contact was difficult, dangerous and in secret.  Roads in and out were controlled by the Taliban and there were regular attacks.  Our contacts were scared of being discovered speaking to us.  In extremely difficult conditions and under an extremely tight deadline, we were able to put a human face to a story that was dominating political debate back in Australia.  It revealed the untold story of the tragedy which had until then been reported on only in terms of numbers and political fallout.  The story was picked up across the country and my pictures helped humanise a polarising political debate.

The Afghans are amazing people.  The refugees living in Pakistan make up the largest refugee group in the world.  There are around 1.7 million official and one million unofficial Afghan refugees living in exile in Pakistan.   They live in very harsh conditions.  The children were almost always able to find a smile.

Steve Pennells wrote heart wrenching articles on the plight of these people.  He won three awards last night including the ‘Most Outstanding Contribution To Journalism’.

That IS outstanding.

Here is a small selection of images taken in the Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan, some of which were part my winning photo essay.

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