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Only on AP: Exclusive coverage as Afghan migrants trek across Alps in winter

Afghan migrant Ali Rezaie looks at a map on his phone as he and Sayed Hamza trek through the French-Italian Alps to reach a migrant refuge in Briancon, France, Dec. 12, 2021. When the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan in August, some Afghans resolved to escape and embarked on forbidding journeys of thousands of kilometers to Europe. Like others, Rezaie’s odyssey through five countries carried him high into the French-Italian Alps, where he was pushing through knee-deep snow to evade border guards. (AP Photo / Daniel Cole)

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With exclusive access, the AP team of John Leicester, Daniel Cole and Florent Bajrami drew the world’s attention to the plight of migrants trekking in perilous conditions across snow-covered Alps,seeking a better life.

Chief Paris correspondent Leicester identified the potentially powerful story back in October,when he learned that the first Afghan refugees fleeing the Taliban takeover and other misery were starting to arrive in France by foot via the Alps after long,arduous journeys. He built contacts with villagers and organized a trip for the heavy snow season, when Alpine conditions — and dangers — are at their worst.

Leicester,freelance photographer Cole and Kosovo-based video journalist Bajrami spent days in the snowy terrain on the Italian and French sides of the border,getting to know the migrants,their journeys and struggles. At one point,as Cole accompanied migrants traversing a treacherous section with bad visibility, Leicester monitored their movements remotely and alerted them to the fact that they were coming up to a ravine.

The AP team was there as French volunteers guided the migrants to warmth and shelter. Leicester also gathered videos for use in AP’s coverage that Afghans,Iranians and Moroccans had recorded during their treks. The result: two Only on AP packages that take a respectful,professional look at the humans and humanity behind Europe’s migration debate, where the migrants’ voices have been increasingly drowned out by nationalist invective.

The online videos racked up more than 12,000 views,and Bajrami’s broadcast videos were used at length by channels across Asia, Europe and the Mideast. Cole’s photos were used to illustrate customers’ migrant coverage across Europe and beyond,and Leicester’s heart-rending stories drew attention around the world.

For a wrenching exposé of this new migrant route,and for humanizing the people behind the migration,Leicester, Cole and Bajrami earn AP’s Best of the Week — Second Winner.

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