Artwork of the Week: The Search for Peace

Over the last week, the World Press Photo of the Year jury convened to determine the most memorable images of 2016.

5034 photographers submitted 80,408 photos for consideration. In the end, 45 were recognised for their achievements, and will be presented with their awards in April.

59 photos were selected as the best news images of 2016, but in a year fuelled by hate and aggression, it was the scenes of vulnerability and despair they propagated that take centre stage. They remind us that, for all the fear that words like ‘illegals’, ‘terrorists’, and ‘Muslim’ have come to inspire in the confused masses, we are all simply human. The subjects of these photos are not on missions of revenge; they are searching for the peace that their homelands can no longer provide.

Below, we present the photos that best represent their terrible plight.

© Laurent Van der Stockt—Getty Reportage for Le Monde

A family watches on as Iraqi Special Forces search houses in the district of Gogjali for Daesh. Daesh fighters held Gogjali and other districts throughout Mosul until late 2016, cutting through the floors of family homes to create a network of tunnels through which they carry out suicide attacks. Many of these homes are booby trapped, posing a threat to both citizens and the army.

© Ameer Alhalbi—AFP

In Syria, the government used air strikes to shatter the rebel-held city of Aleppo between 2012 and 2016. For every fighter killed, three civilians died. Children made up nearly 18% of all 31,183 confirmed deaths. Alhalbi’s series in Aleppo heavily features these children, especially babies. Some images, such as this one, conjure up hope. Others are too horrifying to describe.

This incident took place on September 11, 2016.

© Sergey Ponomarev—The New York Times

And so they flee. Flee from the bombs, the guns, the violence, the torture, the torment.

But in a world in which they are treated no better than the symptoms of a plague, where do they go?

© Vadim Ghirda—Associated Press

Many are forced to extreme lengths in order to find security. These people cross a raging creek in hopes of bypassing a border fence in Macedonia.

© Mathieu Willcocks

Others from a range of countries travel to Libya, where smugglers place them on inflatable rafts. Few are given life jackets, even less means of communication in case they get lost at sea. On the rare chance that smugglers accompany the boat, they bring guns, and fire upon coastguard vessels in an attempt to ensure a safe crossing.

© Mathieu Willcocks -MOAS.eu

Too often, the search for peace comes to a tragic end. This man was discovered four days after being swept overboard.

The tide of refugees will not simply ebb by locking them up in detention centres, or turning them away at the border. Today, the issue has reached crisis point. Not because they’re taking jobs, or housing, or enrolling to vote illegally. Not because they pose a threat to our way of life. But because men, women, and children are dying because cruel hearts and callous governments refuse to accept that they have no other choice but to seek sanctuary in foreign lands.

We must not meet hate with hate. The despicable nature of our enemy must not be allowed to poison our sense of right and wrong, lest we become oppressors ourselves.

To see more from this year’s World Press Photo of the Year Awards, click here.

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