Barat Ali Batoor

Nikon-Walkley Photo of the Year | Nikon-Walkley Feature/Photographic Essay

The Global Mail

“The first day at sea”

Barat Ali Batoor was born in 1983 into a Hazara family driven from Afghanistan by the civil war. He first visited his family’s homeland after September 11, 2001. Seeing the devastation of 23 years of war, he wanted to draw the world’s attention to the plight of the Afghani people.

Batoor began documenting the displacement of the Hazara people as they escaped oppression in Afghanistan and Pakistan to safety abroad. He has also been published in The Washington Post, Newsweek, Wall Street Journal, Stern, India Today, and Outlook Afghanistan. He became part of the story in 2012 when he was forced to flee from Kabul. “Hazara exodus” is composed of photographs he took along the smugglers’ route through Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, then by sea to Australia.

He describes the journey as one of “sudden midnight departures, long road trips, surreptitious transactions, treks through jungles, and terror at sea. It is a journey that mixes fear, boredom and extreme loneliness. A journey that sometimes ends in joy, sometimes in despair and sometimes in death.”

The boat Batoor and 92 other asylum seekers took from Indonesia never made it to Australia, but ran aground on rocks. Batoor’s camera was ruined, but his images survived. He was officially recognised as a refugee and resettled in Australia in 2013, and kept taking photos that were published by The Global Mail and SBS Dateline.

“Some of the people I met along the way never survived to reach safety in Australia, or anywhere else. My hope is that, at the very least, these pictures can tell their story,” he says.

An image from this essay, “The first day at sea”, was named the first Nikon-Walkley Photo of the Year.


For all the years of debate about asylum seekers, this is the first time we’ve seen what one of those boats look like. No-one else has been there. The processes Barat Ali Batoor went through to get on that boat, and facing the possibility it could sink – which it did – that took phenomenal courage and commitment to telling a story. Batoor broadened the debate and helped us visualise what happens before the boats arrive at Christmas Island.

Photo of the year: This is world class photography, worthy of international recognition. It demonstrates the power, the lasting impression, that still photographs can have over a video or a radio interview. This image has the ability to do just that – to stay with you, to stories within stories as your eye bounces around the different people in the shot.

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