This is the scene. A BBC crew arrives at a Red Cross refugee drop-in centre with a large camera and a long furry microphone.

Is anybody willing to go on camera to speak about their experience of being a refugee, asylum seeker or migrant? The room quickly empties. Not one is willing to bare their face to the camera.

This makes for an interesting proposition for a photographer.

So I put my cameras down in a corner and joined a table to talk, listen and learn of mostly African nations including Eritrea, Nigeria and DRC.

For an hour or so, as it turned out.

“That could work. Portraits without the faces.”

Speaking out, I learned, rarely works out well for them. They fear repercussions either from officialdom or from those who may wish them harm. Not just fear actually, because sometimes talking out has turned out bad for people they know.

It makes me think about those examples of ‘good’ journalism where people have been coaxed into spilling all to the camera or mic, being named and so on. But when the journalist moves on to the next job, the contributor can be left to face the music.

“What about if we are not shown?” a man, sat next to me, asks.

“In pictures?” I ask.

“Yes, for sure.”

“That could work. Portraits without the faces.”

The idea creates a bit of a buzz around the table and everybody is willing to take part.

It’s more than a compromise, says a young woman opposite, who dreams of university. It is a statement of being. They exist, they say, in an incomplete and faceless way on Home Office documents.

The images of those who fear their faces being shown are counterpoised by the Red Cross employees who work hard to support them.

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August 14, 2018

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