Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
February 27, 2011

Alan Chin on the Tunisia-Libya Border: Exodus

If the first inclination here is to see this hand clasp as a symbol of connection, a reaching for freedom, what it’s more indicative of — looking at that foothold, also — is the tenuous grip on present circumstances.

It has been anything but quiet at Tunisia’s Ras Jedir crossing-point where Alan Chin has been positioned the past two days. Since his last report, there has been a rapid and dramatically increasing flow of refugees coming across the border.

According to AFP, more than 10,000 people crossed just yesterday, a total of 40,000 this week, including Tunisians, Egyptians, Libyans and Chinese. A large number are immigrant workers having been employed by multinationals, from domestic workers to skilled oil workers.

With governments teetering or toppling across the Middle East, the image of a crown embossed on this suitcase suggests that the consequences of a popular uprising can be as dire and dislocating as triumphant.

Many of the evacuees from Libya are trained foreign nationals who helped power the economy of a country rich in oil resources. If the faces are wary and expectant, it’s no surprise.

Another picture of stress: For the majority of men, now refugees, stranded at the Tunisia-Libya border, one’s bed and one’s life has been reduced to a bag, jacket, blanket and a strip of floor.

Whereas Ras Jedir seemed little more than sane ground one week ago as people struggled to evacuate from chaotic Libya, the crossing station is fast turning into a crisis for Tunisia, and a boiling pot.  According to further reports, shelter is scarce with arrivals already taxing local schools, hangers, a nearby military camp and local homes.  Egyptians, in particular, are angry, demanding help from the government for repatriation.

The UN is sending supplies and equipment to set up a temporary camp this weekend.  In the meantime, supplies are scare, resources are limited, the gazes are soul-searching and people are looking for a hand.

–Michael Shaw


You can see the archive of all the photo-reports from BagNews since the Middle East crisis began at Middle-East Uprising 2011.

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About the Photographer

Alan Chin

Alan Chin was born and raised in New York City’s Chinatown. Alan Chin was born and raised in New York City’s Chinatown. Since 1996, he has worked in China, the former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt, and throughout the Middle East and Central Asia. In the US, Alan has explored the South, following the historic trail of the civil rights movement and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, covered multiple presidential campaigns, and the Occupy Wall Street movement. He is a contributing photographer to Newsweek/Daily Beast and The New York Times, a member of Facing Change: Documenting America (FCDA), and an editor at You can see all Alan's posts for BagNews here.

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