World Press Photo winner’s 1,000-mile walk for prize

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A photographer who snapped up the 2016 World Press Photo Award with a haunting picture of refugees crossing a border at night was Tuesday nearing the end of a near 1,000-mile walk to collect his prize.

“This type of journey is something that I always wanted to do. But because I spent time with the refugees fleeing places like Syria, it has special significance,” Warren Richardson told AFP.

The 47-year-old Australian, who scooped the award with his grainy moonlit picture of a man passing a baby under a barbed wire fence, set off on foot on his remarkable journey in mid-February, leaving his home in Budapest for Amsterdam.

He maintains his aim is not to recreate the arduous trek being undertaken by hundreds of thousands who have arrived in Europe fleeing conflict in the hopes of starting a new life.

But he did want to check up on some of the refugees he has photographed since they arrived on the continent’s shores last year.

Richardson is expected to arrive in Amsterdam on Thursday after walking more than 1,500 kilometres (930 miles), sleeping next to the road in his tent and using nothing but the sun, stars and the kindness of strangers for navigation.

“The original plan was to walk from Budapest to northern Norway and meet up with some of the refugee people I met in Hungary and elsewhere to see how they’re doing,” Richardson told AFP by telephone from  somewhere near the northern Dutch city of Edam.

“But the day I was leaving the phone rang and they told me I had won the World Press Photo Award. That changed things somewhat,” an out-of-breath sounding Richardson said as he made his way through some of the maze of small ditches and canals that dot the Dutch countryside.

“So instead I am walking to Amsterdam which is actually just half-way to where I want to go,” the intrepid photographer said.

He had set off armed with a backpack, a tent, a sleeping bag and his trusty camera. And virtually no money.

On Sunday evening Richardson will be presented with a 10,000 euro ($11,300) cash prize by Dutch Prince Constantijn, brother of Dutch King Willem-Alexander, at a prestigious invitation-only event in Amsterdam.

– ‘Lesson in humility’ –

On Tuesday morning however, a weather-beaten Richardson, who told AFP his “shoes were falling apart” was asking bypassers the way to Edam, about 23 kilometres north of Amsterdam.

Richardson said a group of refugees were waiting for him in Edam to accompany him on the final stage to the Dutch capital after weeks of adventure on the road.

Asked why he decided to walk, Richardson said: “It teaches me humility and you meet some amazing people along the way.”

Europe is currently grappling with its worst migrant crisis since World War II. Over one million people crossed clandestinely from Turkey to Greece in 2015 and some 150,000 have made the trip since the start of this year.

AFP photo director Francis Kohn, who chaired this year’s jury in Amsterdam, said when the awarded was announced in February that Richardson’s picture “had such power because of its simplicity, especially the symbolism of the barbed wire.”

“We thought it had almost everything in there to give a strong visual of what’s happening with the refugees,” Kohn said.

Agence France-Presse also scooped four awards in the competition including first prize for Syria-based Sameer Al-Doumy in the Spot News stories category, for his images taken just after air strikes ravaged the city of Douma near Damascus.

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