CNN Photos

Traveling boys are ‘the flowers of Afghanistan’

With an ongoing war, citizens in many areas of Afghanistan become refugees as they look for safety or a better life. Photographer Alixandra Fazzina found unaccompanied minors traveling to Europe, searching for opportunity and stability.

Fazzina had been covering refugees for years, and when she won the Nansen Refugee Award in 2010, it served as a springboard to further investigate and document their lives, she said.

The British war artist-turned-photographer began her career embedded with the British army in Bosnia. She covered several wars before growing weary of a soldier’s perspective, she said; the most interesting stories come from the refugees.

Reporting without soldiers for the past decade in Iraq and Afghanistan, however, has been difficult, Fazzina said. Access to many parts of the countries has been limited, but it’s “more and more vital that the realities are shown from different perspectives.”

In 2011, Fazzina began following young Afghan boys escaping to Europe with the help of smugglers. But what starts as an exciting journey for these children often turns dangerous and sometimes deadly. Once they reach their destination, it’s far less glamorous than they were told it would be.

Her project, “The Flowers of Afghanistan,” sprang from there. Named after graffiti she saw scrawled by transient Afghans, the words seemed to resonate with her.

“To me and to their families, these boys are the flowers,” Fazzina explained. “Fresh-faced and blossoming, they had been uprooted, but in a cruel juxtaposition, the environments in which I found them were places without light, where it seemed nothing could grow.”

Smugglers persuade families to pay exuberant amounts to send their children to Europe but don’t guarantee their arrival. Because of the expense, there is a high pressure to succeed. To ease the minds of their families, many of these “golden children” create glamorous Facebook accounts, posing for photos and looking happy, Fazzina said.

“They live in bad conditions,” she said, like the shadows of a bus station, an incredibly unsafe place. “It’s very, very shocking.”

While many of these boys are intelligent and articulate and seem like they’ll do well, others are vulnerable, she continued.

“All along the way, people are trying to make money out of them, exploit and abuse them," Fazzina said. “It’s the hardest work I’ve ever done in my life.”

- Elizabeth I. Johnson, CNN

Read a CNN story about the struggles of Afghan street kids in Paris.