Terror on the High Seas

By Ray Leyesa

ICONIC Photos, a photo blog, recently featured photographer Chris Anderson’s past work on Haitian migrants who attempted to enter the United States way back in 2000. Together with journalist Mike Finkel, the two documented the journey of 44 Haitians over treacherous waters in their 23-foot boat. Their journey ended disastrously with the boat sinking in the Caribbean. They were rescued by the United States Coast Guard.

HAITI. 2000. In the hold of the boat Believe in God some hundred miles off the coast of the Bahamas after leaving Ile de la Tortue, Haiti, the Haitians aboard are terrified as we realize that the boat is sinking. Most do not know how to swim. They are willing to risk life to make it to America. The Believe in God is a 23-foot wooden sailboat with scrap wood and used, stolen nails. 44 Haitians are on board attempting to reach America. Photo by Christopher Anderson 2000

But here's the thing: Thirteen years later since Anderson and Finkel’s journey thousands of Haitians continue to risk their lives as they attempt to escape poverty, hunger and unemployment. They cross into the Dominican Republic or take to flimsy boats in a very uncertain search for better opportunities. IOM has recognized the problem and continues to run programmes aimed at discouraging Haitians from reckless attempts to migrate from Haiti’s north-western coast in flimsy craft.  

This is why I find Anderson’s work still timely and important. It visualizes the dangers these Haitians still face as, driven by hunger and poverty, they attempt to escape for a better life. Images of these small sailboats being intercepted  by the Coast Guard of different countries are familiar as is TV  footage of people being rescued and being interviewed in transit centers. But how many times have we seen photographs of their actual journey?  

The experience was a life-changer for Anderson. In an interview with Picture Perfect | VICE, he recalled that as the boat sank, the Haitian whom they were following said:  “Chris, you’d better start making pictures now, we’re going to be dead in 45 minutes.”

Anderson explained that his pictures were all about communicating something about his experience and not so much as reporting what was happening right there and then. The result was a set of powerful images that tell the story of these 44 Haitians. These images are powerful reminders of why we need to continue to help migrants.

Christopher Anderson’s work with the Haitian refugees earned him the Robert Capa Gold Medal. They also marked the emergence of an emotionally charged style that Anderson refers to as ‘experiential documentary’. He is a member of Magnum Photos. To see more of his photos of the Haitian’s journey, you can go here.



Ray Leyesa is Communications Specialists for IOM