“Photography is a universally understood language. No matter where you’re from, anyone can read an image and understand what’s going on,” says French photojournalist Michael Bunel.
Bunel has been working as a photojournalist for the last five years and is committed to communicating important stories through images. He’s documented the 2013 unrest in Turkey’s Taksim Square, the crisis in Ukraine, and the Calais Jungle. But now he’s turning the lens on a crisis unfolding right on his doorstep in Paris.
“For several months, hundreds of refugees have been roaming the capital for lack of a better reception facility,” explains Bunel. Despite the French President Emmanuel Macron’s purported wish to make France ‘the land of the welcome’, refugees continue to sleep rough in the streets, mostly grouped in makeshift camps like those at the Canal Saint Martin in Jaurès and the Avenue of the Porte des Poissonniers. With snow falling in the French capital at the start of February and now again at the end, they’re facing freezing conditions in tents.
When he was just starting out as a photojournalist, Bunel planned to go to Aleppo in Syria. It didn’t work out, so he began to focus on the refugees in Syria and Turkey, following the issue and the people to Belgrade, where they were spending the winter in warehouses. The snow arrived soon after in Paris, and Bunel was confronted with the same scenes he’d just photographed in Serbia. “I knew I had to document what was going on beneath my window,” he says.
Through Bunel’s lens, we bear witness to the huddles of tents in Paris’ La Chapelle district, men wrapped in blankets and gathered round fires vying to keep warm, and aid distributed by citizens. The government is building emergency centres, but no long term solution has been found, and it’s fallen to charities and ordinary people to try to help. It’s led to desperate scenes, which Bunel says take some sensitivity to record.
“For the people I photograph, you have to win their trust,” he says. “It takes time, but most of the people want us to show the reality of how it is to be a refugee.”