Pictures of the Year: A Picture and its Story
Achraf, 16, cries as he swims using bottles as floaters, near the fence between the Spanish-Moroccan border, after thousands of migrants swam across the border, in Ceuta, Spain, May 19, 2021. Reuters photographer Jon Nazca: "Southern Spain is home to one of the planet's most lethal migration routes. Between the African and European continents a constant humanitarian drama plays out. People from across Africa, mainly Moroccans and Algerians, take to the sea in small boats, crossing the Straits of Gibraltar, the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, to try and reach Europe. They are fleeing war, poverty and dictatorships in their home countries. More than 10,000 migrants of all ages crossed the border during a single week in mid-May, many of them children and mothers with babies. One of these migrants making the journey was 16-year-old Achraf, who has swum from Morocco to the Spanish enclave of Ceuta. I took his picture from the shore as he swam on his back on the second day of my assignment there. When I first arrived at the border between Spain and Morocco it felt as though I had found myself on the set of a war film. Hundreds of migrants were desperately swimming at full pelt for Spanish soil, while thousands more rested on the shore, exhausted, after having made it to Spain. Soldiers in tanks and rescue boats received them on the shore and helped them along the beach as the Moroccan authorities looked on impassively. Among all those swimming, one in particular caught my eye. It was Achraf, the only one to have fashioned a float out of nine plastic bottles tied around his body in case his strength failed him. From when I took the first photograph to the moment he reached dry land he was swimming for almost an hour without rest. The heat was scorching but the sea was ice cold. I followed him all along the shoreline for more than 500 metres as he tried to avoid the soldiers posted on the beach and escape inland. As he was swimming, Achraf begged the soldiers between tears.