Through an empathetic lens, Jermain Cikic’s photo series raises awareness of the refugee crisis in Greece

Entitled Where Dreams Get Shattered, the project tells the stories of refugees based in Samos, and the struggles they face every day.

22 November 2021

Inspiration can come from anywhere. For Jermain Cikic, a photographer born in The Netherlands, it’s the encounters he has with strangers that gets his creative gears turning. “These talks that I have with people I don’t really know teach me so much,” he tells It’s Nice That. “There are little lessons about life I pick up along the way, and how I want to approach it myself. I love hearing the stories of others and getting to know where they come from.”

One of these influential encounters happened last summer in Greece while Jermain was visiting the island of Samos with an NGO from Berlin called Mare-Liberum. On this trip, he met with people of all ages who had to flee their country, which inspired him to start working on a photographic project named Where Dreams Get Shattered. Featuring an array of intimate portraiture and landscapes, the project subtly illustrates the struggles that refugees have to endure every day. “On the island of Samos, I was trying to get in touch with other NGOs and speak with the refugees regarding their situation,” says Jermain. “In the very short period of time, I made some close relationships with a few of the refugees.” Deciding to keep his conversations with the refugees anonymous, Jermain has written an essay to accompany the visuals that highlights some of the meetings he had – like one refugee from Samos who spoke of their “unpleasant journey” to reach the “land of dreams”. They wrote: “You come to find out it is just a prison that cannot be escaped, surrounded by the sea on all sides, where you miss all the basics of life.”

While working on the project and deciphering how best to portray his subjects, Jermain decided to avoid depicting them in sad circumstances. “There are so many perspectives and points of view and stories to tell others than the one-note victimhood portrayed by the media,” he explains. Instead, his series offers up a bitter sweet, sun-drenched representation of the coast; what’s happening in reality is far from bliss, but Jermain humanises his subjects in a way that makes the situation feel more real and relatable. “I learned a lot about the political situation while I was there doing this work,” he continues. “The criminalisation of migration is unbelievable. The things these people have to face on a daily basis is against human rights; a fundamental human right is the freedom of movement and these people are stuck on an island for months and some even years.” It’s a harsh pill to swallow when learning of their realities, but Jermain strives to share these stories for the world to see.


Jermain Cikic: Where Dreams Get Shattered (Copyright © Jermain Cikic, 2021)

In one image from Where Dreams Get Shattered, Jermain has photographed two boys bathing with a bucket of water. It’s a moment he remembers clearly, as he came across two brothers on a hot and cloudless 36-degree day inside the camp. “For me, personally, it’s a very sad situation to see two young kids trying to cool themselves because of the harsh sun rays. But on the other hand, they had lots of fun together,” he recalls. This joy becomes paramount through his subjects’ grins and playful splashing, showing that even though they’re stuck on the island, they still manage to have fun. Another photo depicts one of the photographer’s friends holding his diving glasses – he’s been on the island for one year and seven months in total. The two of them would visit the beach and enjoy the weather together. “He said that this was the place where he could forget about his situation for some time, to escape his family routine inside the camp,” says Jermain. “The way he looks into the distance, the sharpness and focus emphasises the hope, strength and desire he had to get off the island and build a future somewhere else.”

Jermain hopes that with this series his audience will learn more about what’s going on on the world – “You can’t take life for granted”. As a European, he’s aware of his privilege and makes a point of how refugees are denied the fundamental human right to the freedom of movement; borders, walls and surveillance continue to increase, especially in the EU and in locations such as Samos. “We Europeans are very privileged of having the freedom of movement to go wherever we want but this isn’t the reality for everyone. We, as the human species, have to reunite with each other and take care of one another. The fight against the European border regime can’t stop!”

GalleryJermain Cikic: Where Dreams Get Shattered (Copyright © Jermain Cikic, 2021)

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Jermain Cikic: Where Dreams Get Shattered (Copyright © Jermain Cikic, 2021)

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About the Author

Ayla Angelos

Ayla is a London-based freelance writer, editor and consultant specialising in art, photography, design and culture. After joining It’s Nice That in 2017 as editorial assistant, she was interim online editor in 2022/2023 and continues to work with us on a freelance basis. She has written for i-D, Dazed, AnOther, WePresent, Port, Elephant and more, and she is also the managing editor of design magazine Anima. 

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