On the border of the mountains

Rose Lecat

2018 - 2019


"The living are too well united with the living for me to accept closed borders."

From a poem by Oskar Wladyslaw De Lubicz Milosz

In this perilous journey to France, the exiles from Africa and the Middle East who have survived the sea and the desert, find themselves facing the mountains of the Alps, the natural border between France and Italy, guarded day and night by the French police.

Between Oulx (Italy) and Briançon (France), passing through Montgenèvre at an altitude of 1,854 metres, this invisible border is the last barrier before access to French soil and therefore to the asylum application. This territory has become a lawless zone. Many reports describe the failure of the police to respect the rights of migrants, who refuse to file asylum applications at the border and to shelter unaccompanied minors. Furthermore, citizens who try to rescue refugees in danger are pursued by the police. These national borders of Europe, which were opened with the Schengen agreements, are now impassable to exiles following the Dublin agreements and the adoption of a security policy by the European Union.

Every day and every night, men, women, children and unaccompanied minors try to cross the borders into France, regardless of the season, the risks involved or the police presence. Future asylum seekers do not have access to public transport to cross intra-European countries. This policy of non-reception at the French border is a factor of insecurity, exclusion, precariousness and endangerment of others for the refugees.

Through encounters in the places of reception, I followed the journey of these exiles in the mountainous landscapes they crossed and I recorded their testimonies with the aim of sharing their stories and humanising what politics calls "a migratory crisis". This project mixing landscapes, portraits and typographic embossed testimonies, deciphers a territory with an invisible wall, charged with a migratory past that resurfaced years after the Second World War. In some of the photographs, gold leaf gilding is used to hide or highlight an element, reminiscent of the official stamp on papers or the golden aspect of survival blankets, it can hide an identity to protect it or signify the loss of self for a new life.

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  • Alaska holds a map of the Alps at the Chez Jesus squat, the home of exiles before the border, in Clavière, Italy, on October 7, 2018.

  • A shirt hangs from a branch of a tree on the path of crossing the Alps. Montgenèvre, Italie-France border, October 5, 2018.

  • Ibrahim's thoughts. Dyptic of the portrait of Ibrahim, a young Guinean, in his cigarette smoke in Clavière, Italy and the mountain in the mist, Montgenèvre, France, 7 October 2018. Letterpress embossed text of a testimony of an exile at the border.

  • Identity papers left by the exiles who passed in France, burn on the Franco-Italian border. September 20, 2018.

  • A shelter at the former customs of the French-Italian border is marked with a message against the border and the laws. Clavière, Italy. Impossible for exiles to use transport to cross the border. October 8, 2018.

  • Leonel are looking at the mountains landscape through the window of Chez Marcel's squat at Briançon, on April 26, 2018, France.

  • The sunlight pierces the clouds and illuminates the forest between the mountain of Montgenèvre and La Vachette, as if the sky showed the way. October 8, 2018, Italy-France border. Several exiles have died on the way across.

  • A refugee abandoned an Italian paper on the beginning of the path crossing the Alps. His identity is covered with gilding to protect him. Losing his identity is a chance to get a new one in France. November 5, 2018, Italy-France border.

  • Moussa has lived in Briançon for a few months. He volunteers at the Briançon solidarity refuge which welcomes refugees arriving in France. He remembers, near the wood stove of the refuge, his border crossing and the fear of losing his way. November 17, 2018, France.

  • Two paths are offered to cross the snowy mountains, one is blocked by branches. Montgenèvre, France, November 19, 2018.

  • Alpha's thoughts. Dyptic of the portrait of Alpha, Gambian, in front of the brazier of Chez Jesus, place of reception of the exiles, in Clavière in Italy, on October 6, 2018 and the landscape of illuminated town of Montgenèvre, with its border police station at night.

  • A group of refugees run in the snow during a storm to cross the border and rejoin the Refuge Solidaire at Briançon. Marauding in solidarity to help refugees in danger at the border. March 19, 2019, France border.