TIME Behind the Photos

The Story Behind the Photos of Nepal’s Devastating Earthquake

Freelance photographer Omar Havana was in Kathmandu when the earthquake hit

Freelance photographer Omar Havana was at home in Kathmandu when an earthquake measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale hit central Nepal.

“Everything started moving and my wife and I could [barely] stand,” Havana tells TIME. “I live in a six-floor house, so we ran downstairs as the building started to crack. It was very scary—people were running, shouting and crying. It was awful.”

With a dead toll rising by the hour—this earthquake is Nepal’s worst in 81 years—Havana witnessed scenes of panic as people looked for safety in open spaces. “There were more replicas, which scared everyone even more,” he said. “It has been one of the worst scenes I’ve witnessed in my life.”

The Spanish photographer, who moved to Kathmandu seven months ago and is represented by Getty Images, also saw acts of humanity. “People are doing amazing work,” he said. “They’re doing everything they [can] to help each other.”

Havana has been documenting these scenes, filing images that show the extraordinary extent of the destruction and the astonishing solidarity in its wake. “I try to be as human as I can be but it’s hard not to be overwhelmed [by] what’s in front of my eyes: a hand appearing from the debris, a mother hold[ing] her baby. I’m just trying to tell the story of the people and the damage caused to the city.”

While shooting, Havana is also on the lookout for survivors, helping clear rubble. “I keep my eyes open, hoping I will see a person alive under the debris.”

With communications networks severely impacted, Havana has been working with colleagues from other media organizations to get his images out. “Once again, I owe the people of Nepal a lot,” he said. “They are opening us their doors to let us charge our laptops and use Internet from their houses.”

“Today has been one of the saddest of my life,” he added. “I am new in Nepal but the people [have made] me love this country as my home. I am devastated to see this situation.”

Omar Havana is a freelance photographer based in Kathmandu, Nepal. He is represented by Getty Images.

Mikko Takkunen, who edited this photo essay, is an Associate Photo Editor at TIME. Follow him on Twitter @photojournalism.

TIME Nepal

10 Dead, More Missing in Quake-Triggered Avalanche on Everest

An unknown number of people were missing

KATHMANDU, Nepal (AP) — An avalanche triggered by a massive earthquake in Nepal swept across Mount Everest on Saturday, killing at least 10 climbers and guides, slamming into a section of the mountaineering base camp, and leaving an unknown number of people injured and missing, officials said.

The avalanche struck between the Khumbu Icefall, a notoriously treacherous area of collapsed ice and snow, and the base camp where most climbing expeditions prepare to make their summit attempts, said Ang Tshering of the Nepal Mountaineering Association.

The avalanche plowed into a part of base camp, a sprawling village of climbers, guides and porters, flattening at least 30 tents, Tshering said. With communication very limited at Everest, it was not immediately clear how many of those injured and killed were at base camp, and how many were elsewhere on the mountain.

An official with Nepal’s mountaineering department, Gyanendra Shrestha, said the bodies of 10 people had been recovered and an unknown number remained missing or injured. Their nationalities were unclear as climbers described chaotic attempts to treat the injured amid fears of more landslides and aftershocks that continue to rattle the region. Chinese media reported a Chinese climber and two Sherpa guides were among the dead.

Hundreds of climbers — ranging from some of the world’s most experienced mountaineers to relative novices on high-priced, well-guided trips — make summit attempts on Everest every year. At times, when the weather is agreeable, dozens of people can reach the summit in a single day. But high winds, brutal cold, difficult terrain and massive avalanches can hit the mountain with no notice. Hundreds of people have died on the mountain over the years.

“Right now, it is pretty chaotic and we try to help those injured,” Danish climber Carsten Lillelund Pedersen wrote in an email to Danish news agency Ritzau.

Norwegian climber Teodor Glomnes Johansen told a newspaper in Norway that people at base camp were working on saving lives.

“All those who are unharmed organize help with the rescue efforts. Men, women and Sherpas are working side by side. The job right now is to assist the doctors in the camp here,” Glomnes Johansen told Norway’s VG newspaper.

Carsten Lillelund Pedersen said that he and a Belgian companion were at the Khumbu Icefall, at an altitude of 5,000 meters (16,500 feet), when the earthquake hit.

He said a steady flow of people were fleeing the base camp for more secure areas down the mountain.

Local reports in China said an amateur team encountered an avalanche on the north slope of the mountains at an elevation of more than 7,000 meters (22,965 feet) and safely retreated to a lower camp.

The magnitude-7.8 quake struck around noon Saturday about 80 kilometers (50 miles) northwest of Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu, almost one year after the deadliest avalanche on record hit Everest, killing 16 Sherpa guides on April 18, 2014.

The 2014 deaths occurred at the Icefall, where the edge of the slow-moving glacier is known to crack, cave and send huge chunks of ice tumbling without warning.

More than 4,000 climbers have scaled the 8,850-meter (29,035-foot) summit since 1953, when it was first conquered by New Zealand climber Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay. The numbers have skyrocketed in recent years, with more than 800 climbers during the 2013 spring season.

Following the 2014 disaster, guides accused Nepal’s government of not doing enough for them despite making millions in permit fees from Western mountaineers who attempt to scale the Himalayan peaks. The guides protested by refusing to work on the mountain, leading to the cancellation of last year’s climbing season.

TIME photography

See the Most Dramatic Rescue From the Nepal Earthquake

A man was pulled from the rubble alive in Kathmandu after a 7.8-magnitude quake struck on Saturday

Photojournalist Narendra Shrestha was at home on Saturday when he felt the tremors of a 7.8-magnitude earthquake that struck central Nepal, killing more than 700 people.

“I thought I was going to die,” Shrestha tells TIME. “It was horrifying. How did I get out of this? This is my lucky day.”

As soon as the tremors began, his daughter started crying—she did not want him to leave their newly built home, which was left intact. But, Shrestha said to himself, “I should capture this. This is my job”

Shrestha, 40, a staff photographer for the European Pressphoto Agency based in Kathmandu, has worked in the region and across the world for 17 years.

Shrestha was stunned by the devastation after the quake. “Everybody is in shock,” he said.

Not far from his home in Thamel, the main tourist hub in Kathmandu, he came across a hotel under construction. An old home next to the hotel had collapsed, trapping an undetermined number of people. Shrestha estimated 40 construction workers were on site, actively searching for people who were trapped, when they found a man.

“All you could see was his head,” he said. “The rest of his body was buried.”

As they worked to uncover him it was apparent he was still alive.

With dust still in the air and a flurry of rescue workers and volunteers scrambling to find survivors, Shrestha captured the scenes of chaos before returning to his office to transmit his photos, as aftershocks continued to be felt across the region.

Shrestha also checked on his father—who has lived through numerous earthquakes. “He’s never seen anything like this,” he said

As night approached in Kathmandu, people were still in shock, he added. “Nobody is going to sleep in their homes tonight. I’m going to move my family outside. I’m just grateful my family is OK.”

TIME Nepal

Hundreds Dead as 7.8-Magnitude Earthquake Strikes Nepal

The damage stretched across the country

A powerful earthquake measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale struck central Nepal on Saturday morning, damaging buildings in the country’s capital, Kathmandu, and sending tremors across northern India, Bangladesh and as far afield as Pakistan. At least 1,130 people were killed, the Associated Press reports.

The epicenter of the earthquake was located about 50 mi (80 km) northwest of Kathmandu, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), which said the quake struck Nepal just before noon at a shallow depth of only about 9 mi (15 km) belowground.

More than 6.6 million people are in the area affected by the earthquake, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Bangkok.

“I thought I was going to die,” photojournalist Narendra Shrestha tells TIME. “It was horrifying. How did I get out of this? This is my lucky day.”

Read more: See the Most Dramatic Rescue From the Nepal Earthquake

In Kathmandu, residents congregated on streets and other open areas as the USGS reported a series of powerful aftershocks. Buildings and temples collapsed, and roads across the city were cracked open by the quake. Kathmandu’s historic Dharahara tower—a nine story tall structure dating back to the 19th century—was brought down by the earthquake, with at least 50 people reportedly trapped in the rubble.

Read more: How Shoddily Constructed Buildings Become Weapons of Mass Destruction

An avalanche near Mount Everest triggered by the earthquake killed 10 people, and buildings were reported to have been damaged across parts of northern India near the country’s border with Nepal.

“We need support from the various international agencies which are more knowledgeable and equipped to handle the kind of emergency we face now,” Nepal’s Information Minister Minendra Rijal told the BBC.

The US is sending a disaster response team to Nepal and has released an initial $1 million to the country, and British authorities have been in close contact with Nepal over disaster relief.

Speaking to Reuters, Krishna Prasad Dhakal, the deputy head of Nepal’s embassy in New Delhi, said: “Hundreds of people are feared dead and there are reports of widespread damage to property. The devastation is not confined to some areas of Nepal. Almost the entire country has been hit.”

With the arrival of nightfall in Nepal, rescue workers struggled to find the most vulnerable people with no place to sleep as forecasts show the temperature dropping to 54 degrees Fahrenheit in the capital, and likely far colder in higher altitudes, the Guardian reports.

In New Delhi, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi convened an emergency meeting to take stock of the situation, Indian television reports.

Nepal’s capital is located in the earthquake-prone Kathmandu Valley, where the last major disaster occurred in 1934. Then, nearly 11,000 people died when a magnitude 8.4 earthquake struck Nepal and the eastern Indian state of Bihar, which borders the Himalayan country.

Read more: Your City Might Not Be Ready for the Big Next Earthquake

TIME Behind the Photos

How Photographers Are Trying to Put a Face on Europe’s Migrant Crisis

"I wanted to show that behind each migrant there’s a person”

European leaders are grappling with what’s being called one of the worst migrant and refugee crises in two generations. On Thursday, in a hastily formed summit in Brussels called after an estimated 800 people died in a capsizing off Libya while en route to Europe, leaders pledged new support to cap the rising death toll in the Mediterranean. But aid organizations and humanitarian officials said Europe is still “lagging far behind” of what’s realistically needed to ease the tragedy.

The crisis along the Mediterranean’s coastlines, from Libya to Morocco and Greece to Italy, is not new. Photographers have worked over the last decade to raise awareness as conflict and poverty in the Middle East and Africa have displaced millions. Last June, one image crystallized the scale of this movement. Shot by Italian photographer Massimo Sestini aboard a helicopter taking part in Mare Nostrum, an Italian-led search and rescue operation largely funded by the European Union and abandoned late last year, it showed one boat with hundreds of people looking up, waving their arms. “You could see their desperation,” Sestini said last year. “And, concurrently, their happiness at being saved.”

The photograph, which TIME named one of the top 10 images of 2014, went on to win a World Press Photo award, but it told only one part of a much larger story.

“The only way to really tell the story is to spend time with them in their home countries, see how they live, learn why they leave and then just go with them on their way,” says Daniel Etter, a German photographer, who has documented migrants in northern Africa and across Europe. He called that “almost impossible” to do. Security risks, travel obstacles and financial barriers get in the way, leaving most photographers unable to build the kind of all-encompassing narrative that could help people understand the true nature of the crisis.

Some photographers have attempted to piece together the stories of migrants who risk their lives on these journeys. Alixandra Fazzina, a photographer with Noor, followed Somali migrants’ arduous trip across the Gulf of Aden in search of a better future in her book A Million Shillings, published in 2010. One in 20 who attempted the crossing lost their lives, their bodies washing up on Yemen’s shore.

She wanted to go deeper, she says, than the “small paragraph you find in a newspaper detailing the number of people that have died… I wanted to find out why they were making the journey. I wanted to find out why these people were willing to put their lives into the hands of smugglers and traffickers? Why would somebody do that?”

Olivier Jobard, a French photographer who followed a Cameroonian man’s trek to France, seeks similar answers. “What’s bothering me when we’re talking about immigration is that we often associate these people with ghosts and shadows,” he says. “They are not human in our minds.”

Italian photographer Alessandro Penso, who has been following migrants around Europe, focusing on hotspots like Greece, Italy and Malta, says he seeks moments of spontaneity to expose the humanity of his subjects.”There are simple gestures and habits in daily life that, as banal as they can seem to our eyes, hide the simple truth that we are all humans and vulnerable.”

Humanizing the people making these dangerous and harrowing journeys is important, Penso and his colleagues argue, especially when photography can lead to misconceptions. Cases in point are the widely published photographs of “hordes” of people scaling border fences in Melilla, a Spanish enclave on the edge of northern Morocco. “[When] people see these images,” says Santi Palacios, an Associated Press photographer who has taken such pictures, “they [think] we’ve been invaded.”

The people portrayed in these images are often seen shirtless and shouting, Jobard says, deliberately assuming a provocative stance. “They actually choose to behave like ‘wild animals’ in these situations—to impress or to scare people because it’s a real battle to get in [Melilla]. Of course, that also does them disservice.”

Once they’ve made it over the fence, he says, the contrast is striking. “They dress up, they take care of their appearances.” Last year, he shadowed a man named Hassan Adam from the Ivory Coast, who spent hours on one of these fences, alone. His friends had made it across to Melilla, successfully avoiding the police forces, but Adam was handcuffed, beaten and sent back to Morocco. Jobard tracked him down, months later, after he had finally made it across. “I told his story,” he says. “I wanted to show that behind each migrant there’s a person.”

For all of those who made it over the fence, or past border patrols or across the Mediterranean, there are untold thousands who lost their lives in the search for a new or better one. In October, Italian photographer Francesco Zizola dived 59 meters to photograph the wreckage of a boat that had carried some 500 people, and now rests at the bottom of the Mediterranean. He sought to convey the vastness of the tragedy that had occurred one year before, when 360 people lost their lives.

“I wanted to show to everybody that our comfortable, bourgeois homes could turn—as if in a nightmare—into that cabin with the red curtain, which I photographed inside the sunken ship,” he says. “That cabin is the tomb of our collective conscience and a memento of our indifference.”

Alice Gabriner and Mikko Takkunen edited this photo essay. With reporting by Lucia De Stefani, a contributor to TIME LightBox.

Andrew Katz is a News Editor at TIME. Follow him on Twitter @katz. Olivier Laurent is the editor of TIME LightBox. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @olivierclaurent.

TIME Syria

Watch Angelina Jolie Call on the U.N. to Save Lives in Syria

The actress and U.N. special envoy pleaded with the security council to take action

Angelina Jolie called for immediate action to help people in Syria in an address to the U.N. Security Council on Friday.

“We are failing to save lives in Syria,” the actress and U.N. special envoy on refugee issues said in her briefing on the Syrian refugee crisis.

The U.N. estimates that about 3.8 million people have fled Syria and 7.6 million others have been displaced in the last four years. Some 220,000 Syrians have been killed since 2011. Jolie shared the stories of some of these survivors, including an 11-year-old girl in a Lebanon camp who is responsible for feeding her five orphaned siblings.

Meanwhile, others fleeing the conflict have drowned trying to reach Europe in overcrowded boats that sink. “It is sickening to see thousands of people drowning on the doorstep of the world’s wealthiest continent,” Jolie said. More than 1,300 refugees have died in the Mediterranean in the past three weeks.

Jolie pleaded with the council to “work as one and end the conflict” by first imposing sanctions and an arms embargo on Syria. Russia has vetoed such efforts in the past.

Later on Friday, at a Women of the World Summit event at the U.N., Jolie spoke specifically about the abuses of women in the conflict.

“Who among us would have thought we would see, in Iraq and Syria, images of women in cages, sold into sex slavery,” she said. She went on to assert that the U.N.’s efforts to protect women in war have fallen short. “Crimes against women are still treated as secondary issues,” she said.

Jolie served as a goodwill ambassador for the U.N.’s refugee agency before being promoted to special envoy in 2012. She has gone on 50 field missions to more than 30 countries, including Syria.

TIME conflict

Turkey and Armenia Host Clashing Centennial Memorials

Alain Jocard—AFP/Getty Images Armenian president Serge Sarkissian (2-R), his wife Rita (2-L) and their children arrive for a ceremony at the Genocide Memorial in Yerevan on April 24, 2015.

Commemorations of two 1915 events—the mass killings of Armenians in Turkey and the Turkish stand at Gallipoli—have caused tension

More than 60 leaders and representatives from around the world converged on the Armenian capital on Friday to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the beginning of a period during which more than 1 million Armenians were killed in Turkey. Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President François Hollande both attended the ceremony, while the White House dispatched Treasury Secretary Jack Lew.

The anniversary of the 1915 killings, in what was then the eastern edge of the Ottoman Empire, has coincided with a surge in international awareness. In the past month, global icons ranging from Pope Francis to Kim Kardashian (who has Armenian ancestry) have ruffled Turkish feathers by shedding light on the killings and using the term “genocide,” which the Turkish government rejects. And as world envoys gather in Yerevan, similar ceremonies will be held in cities around the world.

On April 24, 1915, the Ottomans rounded up Armenian intellectuals in Istanbul in the beginning of what historians widely consider a genocidal act of bloodshed. In an article years later about a violent Armenian campaign for vengeance, TIME described the killings like this:

During World War I, the Turks exterminated or deported virtually their entire Armenian population because they held the unfounded suspicion that members of the ethnic group were disloyal. The decision to undertake the genocide was communicated to the local leaders by the Interior Minister, Talaat Pasha, in 1915. One of his edicts stated that the government had decided to “destroy completely all Armenians living in Turkey. An end must be put to their existence, however criminal the measures taken may be, and no regard must be paid to age, or sex, or to scruples of conscience.”

The Turkish authorities rounded up all able-bodied men in the Turkish army and bludgeoned them to death. Intellectuals and community leaders in Istanbul were herded aboard ships, then drowned at sea. Armenian babies were thrown live into pits and covered with stones. Women, children and old people were forced to march hundreds of miles, over mountains, presumably to a place of deportation in Syria, but actually to their deaths. Forbidden supplies of food and water, they were waylaid by brigands. Turkish gendarmes raped and sometimes disemboweled or cut the breasts off women before finally killing them. While the horrified U.S. Ambassador to Turkey, Henry Morgenthau Sr., appealed in vain to the Turks to stop the slaughter, hundreds of thousands of Armenians could be seen, as Morgenthau put it, “winding in and out of every valley and climbing up the sides of every mountain.”

But even today, the Turkish government still rejects the “genocide” label and says the killing of Armenians was a casualty of the World War. And to the dismay of Armenians, Turkey is hosting a separate centennial ceremony on Friday: a commemoration of the World War I Gallipoli military campaign, the unsuccessful British and French-led invasion of Turkey that also began in 1915.

The naval operation off the coast began on March 18, a day that is traditionally associated in Turkey with the onset of the campaign. Then, following the failure of the naval bombardment, the allies landed troops on Ottoman beaches on April 25, beginning the ill-fated land offensive. Today that date is observed in Australia and New Zealand as Anzac day, a national remembrance day.

Though the centenary events were bound to be close together, some observers say the timing of the Gallipoli memorial appears to be a deliberate attempt to divert attention from the Armenian anniversary, as it forces the world’s dignitaries to choose one or the other. “It certainly looks like an intentional move by Turkey,” said Thomas de Waal, a historian with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the author of Great Catastrophe, about the genocide and its aftermath.

Fatih Öke, a spokesperson at the Turkish Embassy in Washington, denied that charge, noting that Turkey has held a Gallipoli commemoration on April 24 since 2003. This year, because of the centennial anniversary, he said, the government invited foreign leaders. “Sorry, we already have this date,” he said.

Still, no matter the motivation, appearances count. “This may rebound against the Turkish government,” said de Waal. “Whereas if they for example had had it on the 25th, then a lot of officials could have gone to Yerevan one day and to Turkey on the next, and that would have been quite elegant.”

A dozen heads of state and five prime ministers were slated to attend the Gallipoli centennial celebration, including Australian Premier Tony Abbott. But with the exception of the British royalty and Irish President Michael Higgins, none are from Western Europe. Hollande’s presence at the Armenian memorial, rather than the Turkish memorial, is particularly conspicuous given France’s central role in the Gallipoli campaign. And though U.S. ambassador to Turkey John Bass was set to attend the Gallipoli memorial, the U.S. is not sending a separate representative from Washington.

Under rising pressure from the international community, the government in Turkey has recently appeared to ease its approach. On Monday, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu expressed “deep condolences” to descendants of the Armenians who suffered during that time.

But activists in the U.S. are skeptical that the Premier’s statements represent a long term change in attitude.

“Davutoglu was just trying to deter or derail recognition efforts. There’s no expression of regret, there’s no acceptance of responsibility,” said Aram Hamparian, the executive committee of the Armenian National Committee of America. “There’s no doubt in my mind that they organized this Gallipoli thing to detract attention from the Armenian genocide centennial.”

To be sure, Turkey continues to pressure foreign countries on the use of the term “genocide.” President Recep Erdogan warned the Pope not to repeat the “mistake” of using the word, and the White House remains reluctant to risk relations with a key ally in a tumultuous region. On Tuesday, White House officials informed Armenian American leaders that President Barack Obama would not use the term in remarks on Friday, despite a 2008 campaign pledge and vocal past support from people within his administration.

“While it is essential to ensure that Turkey continues to ‘treat the Americans all right,’ a stable, fruitful, 21st century relationship cannot be built on a lie,” Samantha Power, now the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, wrote in TIME in 2007.

Read Power advocate for recognizing the Armenian Genocide in October, 2007: Honesty Is the Best Policy

TIME Armenians

Armenians Are Still on the Run 100 Years Later

A ceremony at the Armenian Martyrs memorial north of Beirut on April 23, 2015.
Joseph Eid—AFP/Getty Images A ceremony at the Armenian Martyrs memorial, north of Beirut on April 23, 2015.

Armenians fled from Turkey to Syria 100 years ago, now they are fleeing again

For four years Krikor held out. Twice shells hit his home in Aleppo and he rebuilt it. His wife had shrapnel lodged in her leg and chest after a bomb tore down their neighbor’s house, but the family refused to leave their home in the city’s Armenian quarter. Then, two weeks ago, as opposition forces escalated their offensive on regime-held areas of Aleppo, one of his closest friends and daughter nearly died in a bombing. He rushed them to hospital and watched as they clung to life. Three days later Krikor packed his wife and two daughters into a taxi and fled for Lebanon.

“Life had become unbearable,” says Krikor. Things had been bad for a while. Eight months ago it became too dangerous for him to go to his auto supply shop that had supported his family for decades. His relatives have been kidnapped by rebels and killed by snipers in the streets. It wasn’t that he didn’t have the $400 for the trip to Beirut, but as the grandson of Armenian refugees who fled their homes 100 years ago this month, he was raised on stories of displacement, refuge and an exile that never ended.

On April 24 each year, the Armenian diaspora commemorates what they say was genocide against their people by the Turkish leaders of the Ottoman Empire. As many as 1.5 million Armenians were killed and thousands sent on death marches into the desert. Some reached the Syrian borders seeking what they thought would be temporary refuge. “My grandparents fled their villages. And still today, one hundred years later, we have not gone back,” says Krikor. “This is one of the things that made me stay in Syria so long.”

For Krikor, it’s particularly sad this week that he will be commemorating the 100-year anniversary of his grandparents’ exodus, in a second exile. His family lived for almost a century in Aleppo and had made the Syrian city their home. He had a comfortable apartment, a successful shop and his daughters were in good schools. He was part of the once 100,000-strong Armenian community in Syria.

The day after Krikor arrived in Beirut he put his family on a plane to Yerevan, the capital of the modern Armenian state. More than 15,000 Armenians from Syria have left for Yerevan, with the promise of assistance from the government there. But Krikor doesn’t want to go. Today’s Armenia does not include the villages of Krikor’s grandparents. Like most in the Armenian diaspora, his ancestral lands are actually part of present-day Turkey. Instead, he’s debating return to Aleppo. “I don’t want to give up my property and life,” says Krikor. Because he hopes to go back, he is scared to use his real name, fearing he will be targeted by opposition rebels. “I hope to return.”

Bedro Zeitounian also fled Aleppo three years ago and now has a small shop in the Bourj Hammoud neighborhood of Beirut, once an Armenian refugee camp, now a densely populated, primarily Armenian, neighborhood. Here, the walls are spraypainted with anti-Turkish graffiti — “Turkey guilty of genocide.” Another popular one has the words “Eastern Turkey” crossed out, and instead “Western Armenia” written above.

For Zeitounian, the atrocities against Christians in Syria and Iraq today, are reminiscent of the stories his grandparents told him of their exodus. “What these rebels and ISIS are doing is incredible. These stories of cutting off heads — these were only stories we heard from our grandmothers and grandfathers,” says Zeitounian. “But now we are seeing it in front of us.” Zeitounian also wants to return to Aleppo, despite knowing little remains of this life there.

“The Armenians want to go back to Syria. Otherwise we are helping the Turks to make the Middle East — Syria, Iraq, Lebanon — without Armenians,” says Hagop Pakradounian, a member of the Lebanese parliament and head of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation in Lebanon. “We don’t want that.”

In March of 2013, Islamist rebels stormed the Syrian-Armenian town of Kassab. They entered through the Turkish border and residents fleeing the town were quick to put the blame on Turkey, saying the Turks helped the jihadis enter the Christians village. For the large part, Armenians have sided with the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, against their historic Turkish foe, whom have been clear they want Assad out. Armenian Syrians have become targets for kidnappings, extortion and murders. An estimated 40,000 Armenians remain in Aleppo, most in regime-controlled parts of the city.

“Our history has always been a history of war and refugees,” says Pakradounian. “How many times in century will be subject to immigration, displacement and deportation?”

TIME migrant boats

We’re Failing Today’s Boat People

Migrants, who are trying to reach Greece, are rescued by members of the Greek Coast guard and locals near the coast of the southeastern island of Rhodes on April 20, 2015.
Argiris Mantikos—Eurokinissi/Reuters Migrants, who are trying to reach Greece, are rescued by members of the Greek Coast guard and locals near the coast of the southeastern island of Rhodes on April 20, 2015.

William Lacy Swing is the director general of the International Organization for Migration.

In 1975, the world acted to save Boat People from Indochina; the Boat People of today are ignored

Forty years ago this spring, the world witnessed one of the turning points of the Cold War: the closing of the U.S. Embassy in South Vietnam, followed quickly by the panicked evacuation of Americans and their allies from the region and then the tragedy of hundreds of thousands of so-called Boat People fleeing from Vietnam into the South China Sea.

I witnessed this painful denouement as a young Foreign Service officer assigned to the U.S.’s Embassy in Bangui, Central Africa Republic, and, like people everywhere, I was horrified by the tales of poor men, women and children risking everything in rickety crafts. That they also were subjecting themselves to fearsome typhoons and other natural perils, as well as the predations of pirates hunting them as prey, raping women and girls, and robbing them of whatever savings they carried, made this period especially tragic.

That tragedy now seems uplifting compared with what we are witnessing today on the Mediterranean. A tide of death is surging on Europe’s doorstep, yet this time the world’s reaction is abominable. Forty years ago our leaders pulled together to help migrants in dire straits. Today the sight of migrants in distress is pulling our leaders apart.

The Mediterranean Sea, the world’s most lethal migrant zone, swallowed 3,279 lives in 2014, a number we may well consider a mere fraction of 2015’s death toll, if current trends continue.

I am speaking of the month of April, still not over, when over 1,000 migrants have been reported missing and presumed drowned. That’s about 20 times the number the International Organization for Migration, the agency I direct, recorded by this time last year. We are alarmed at that statistic — and horrified.

Just this month, IOM has fielded reports of 400 migrants dead in a capsizing on April 14 south of Malta; 50 more on April 17 near Lampedusa, and as many as 800 lives likely lost just off the coast of Libya, only a week ago. Meanwhile survivors of these terrifying voyages tell tales of abuse, torture and deprivation no human being should be forced to withstand. This month gangs reportedly put to sea more than 20 burn victims — one a six month-old baby girl — after a cooking fire swept through a Libyan “safe” house where smugglers were holding migrants before an upcoming voyage. On board one of their craft was a 21st burn victim, found dead.

And yet, while we applaud the decision yesterday by the E.U. to once more put saving lives at the top of their priorities, for too long the world has seemed paralyzed in its response.

Compare this present situation to what was happening 40 years ago. In the late 1970s, when 50,000 or more migrants fled Vietnam and Cambodia for the open sea, the world reacted swiftly. Resettlement efforts carried many of those seeking settlement to safety, first in Thailand, and then the far corners of the world. On the high seas, search and rescue missions operated round the clock. Commercial vessels, too, were encouraged to make rescues, with many ports giving ships bearing rescued Boat People special entry, often waiving paperwork that would have made delivering rescued migrants time-consuming and expensive for shipping companies. Eventually, hundreds of thousands of evacuated Vietnamese, Cambodian, Lao and Montagnard migrants found haven across the U.S., Many also found new homes in France, Australia and parts of Asia, even South America.

Nothing like that is happening with today’s generation of Boat People. Instead of seeking havens for the thousands of Africans and Middle Easterners risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean, too many countries are looking for excuses to turn these migrants back. We must act. And we must ask: What do we want from a migration policy? The simple answer is, something that benefits the migrants seeking to enter as well as the countries that receive them — or what in management parlance is called “a Win-Win.”

Sadly what we have today is the absence of a coherent migration policy, is the opposite: a Lose-Lose. The sad losers, of course are the unfortunate migrants shamefully perishing in the waters or deserts each year by the thousands. Also losing are the citizens and their elected representatives, who watch helplessly as their laws and regulations are flouted by the hundreds of thousands of irregular migrants who do manage to enter Europe, despite the danger. Last year almost 3,500 migrants drowned trying to enter Italy, Greece and Spain by sea — but more than 219,000 survived the voyage. If you do the math, that’s a 94% success rate.

In other words, for all the wasted human life, even these dangers won’t stop migrants from coming. Chance of success simply is too high, and the rewards of that success are simply too great.

This is madness. Many of these migrants already qualify under existing law for asylum or temporary resettlement as refugees. Many who don’t — economic migrants seeking jobs — could come and go under temporary work visas or similar arrangements that would allow them to work in the jobs that are available and cannot be filled otherwise – this would also prevent them from bringing their families with them and avoid the high costs for hosting countries. Employers would get the labor they crave for seasonal harvests and countless other jobs; the specter of needless deaths at sea would cease.

The only way to turn the current lose-lose into a win-win is to manage the migrant flow sensibly in pragmatic fashion. The time to act is now.

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