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Immersive Journalism: A Brazilian reporter walked with a Syrian family across Europe without translators

Many journalists covering the refugee crisis this year put the pieces together from a distance. If they’re on the ground in Europe, they drop in, talk to people for a bit, and move on quickly.

Leticia Duarte, a Brazilian journalist with the newspaper Zero Hora, spent eight days traveling with a family of Syrian refugees as they travelled from Greece to their final destination in Germany. She wrote a feature story about her journey with a Syrian family she met on the Greek island of Kos.

Speaking via Skype from Brazil to the 19 Million Project in Rome, Duarte said it was an out of the ordinary experience for her and for the family she was with. At first, she said, they didn’t believe she would really follow through and travel along with them. Now she stays in contact with them, following their progress as they try to build new lives in Stuttgart, Germany. “I can communicate by WhatsApp or Facebook,” she said. “I keep in touch with the family and I think this is very different because they told me a lot of journalists just arrive and ask a lot of questions to them and then they go, they just go,” she said.

She followed Ghazi and Razan Alissa and their two children Tala, 5 years old, and Mohammad, 3 years old, after interviewing Ghazi in Kos. Traveling without a translator, photographer or producer, Duarte found the journey difficult at times. But the family remained upbeat despite walking hundreds of miles with little rest. They told her “Syria is death but if we travel maybe we have a chance.” They told her they could deal with the cold, deal with anything because they were on their way to Germany. Readers understood that the story was offering them something more than statistics.

“Readers wrote to me and can emailed me after reading and said it was the first time they really understand what happened,” she said. “Because usually they read a lot about the bombs, about the numbers about the war, but they couldn’t really understand what [the refugees] were living … for me it was a powerful experience and for my readers too.”

— Nidhi Prakash

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