Best of Slow Journalism: The Wetsuitman

Photo: AP Photo/Rajanish Kakade

Photo: AP Photo/Rajanish Kakade

The body that washed ashore on Norway’s southernmost tip in January 2015 lacked any identifying features. It was dressed in a cheap grey and black wetsuit, utterly insufficient for the frigid temperatures of the waters around Lista. On 27th October 2014, another body had been found on a beach in Texel in the Netherlands. The only clue to its identity was the cheap grey and black wetsuit in which it was dressed.

In ‘The Wetsuitman’, Norwegian reporter Anders Fjellberg links together the story of how two men made their odysseys from the Middle East to the shores of northern of Europe. Taking the discovery of the body in Norway as a starting point, he follows the police investigation to Calais and into the lawless wasteland of ‘the Jungle’, the French coastal town’s informal refugee camp, which is home to thousands of immigrants.

There Fjellberg finds Badi, a Syrian man who was granted asylum in England but came back to ‘the Jungle’ to look for his nephew, Mouaz al-Balkhi. He knew Mouaz had made it through the Middle East, north Africa and Europe, but shortly after his arrival in Calais, he had ceased all contact. It is surprisingly difficult, however, to disappear without a trace from the plastic and cardboard city of ‘the Jungle’.

Combining a shadowy Scandi Noir atmosphere and the real horror of the European migrant crisis, this absorbing piece for Dagbladet’s weekend magazine reveals a new side to a situation which has become a defining issue of our time. Its measured pace gradually sweeps you up as Fjellberg lays bare the sheer desperation of those who travel thousands of miles only to find themselves separated from their destination by a narrow stretch of water. The quiet commitment of journalists and police officers to return identity and meaning to the anonymous bodies stands in stark contrast to the typical anonymisation of those living under tarpaulin and cardboard in the heart of Europe.

You can read the piece here.

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