14 July 2016

A Zine on the Migration Crisis

14 July 2016 - Written by Laurence Cornet

In their zine, Limbo, documentary photographer Valentino Bellini and freelance journalist Eileen Quinn take an in-depth look at the European migration crisis.

© Valentino Bellino, from the series, Limbo

“The issue won’t be solved until one understands that smuggling is a business following the same rules as any other business” Eileen Quinn, a writer and Human Rights PhD researcher bursts. Along with photographer Valentino Bellini, they followed the road of this 21st century Mediterranean commerce, from their native Sicily to Tunisia. “That’s why I came: to understand the Africans we’re rescuing in the Mediterranean: their struggle to integrate and smuggle to Europe with the help of other Africans”, Quinn writes.

Limbo, a zine that combines their photos and words, is the first chapter of an investigation which they will pursue in Niger and other sub-Saharan countries. “We wanted it to look like a newspaper, since the migration issue is not talked about properly in the media”, Quinn explains. The paper is the only code they borrowed from newspapers though, stepping back from the common narrative of the past 5 years and shifting the focus from data to geography.

© Valentino Bellini, from the series, Limbo

Limbo “wishes to underline how 'destination' has lost its geographic connotation for these men. Hassun, Adama, Usman, Mouhamed and Chams-eddine are all stuck in a place which is not their intended destination, whether physically or psychologically”, she concludes. “The limbo they live through every day in Tunisia is not due to their failure to reach Europe. It is rather their impossibility of crossing a line, of finding a geographic identity.”

Bellini’s photos convey this sense of uncertainty, mostly shot at dawn or dusk, at that time of transition between reality and dreams – dreams that in the case of Bellini’s and Quinn’s subjects have often been wiped away by reality. All of them are compiled in the middle of the book, voicing a unique claim for the right to dignity.

© Valentino Bellini, from the series, Limbo

Trapped between two shores and spaces – places where architecture is often reduced to barbed wire fences - the subjects turn visible in the hostile ground where they are left largely ignored. Indeed, “nowhere in the mountain of papers and reports inside the buildings of Tunisian Ministries is there a clear and precise guidance on what to do (or not to do) with illegal immigrants”, a note stipulates.

Close-ups of the sea and questions are spread throughout the book. These questions, “why are you here?”, are those systematically asked by authorities to migrants, we learn in the book. Limbo offers a staggering answer for those not knowing it, or pretending to.


Valentino Bellini is a documentary photographer born and based in Palermo, Italy. Since 2014, he has been part of the ISSP team in Latvia as co-director of the digital printing lab.

Eileen Quinn is a PhD candidate in Human Rights analysing migrant smuggling from Africa to Europe. Freelance journalist. Italian-Irish born in Paris, based in Sicily.

Laurence Cornet is a writer and curator based in Brooklyn focusing on cultural and environmental issues.

Written by

Laurence Cornet

Reading time

3 minutes

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