Migrant Lives

Tragic Icons Of Migration, Dorothea Lange To A Turkish Beach

'Photographs can help.'
"Photographs can help."
Jeff Israely

PARIS — Human migration is the story of our times. Victims of conflict and climate change, pushed by poverty at home and pulled toward opportunity abroad, people on the move are both a catalyst and consequence of globalization. Yes, immigration is a polarizing political issue, but also a keen reminder of the shared circumstances that bind us all.

As is often the case, the numbers and headlines and political declarations from all sides fail to tell the whole story. Photographs can help. They let us see what's at stake, and at play.

Reuters photographer Kim Kyung-Hoon caught this moment Sunday of a mother and her twin daughters fleeing tear gas near the U.S.-Mexico border wall. The 2014 World Press Photo of the Year was a much quieter image: John Stanmeyer's poignant shot that captured the paradox of our particular epoch in the migration saga, where technology can only go so far in connecting people to what they seek and who they love.

Aboard a rescue ship a year later in the Mediterranean, Francesco Zizola took what can be classified as a documentary portrait of several would-be immigrants, whose expressions of trauma and dignity recall the standard bearer of all such images: Migrant Mother by Dorothea Lange during her work surveying the internal migration caused by the Great Depression.

Migrant Mother — (© Dorothea Lange | OneShot)

As the ultimate victims of circumstance, it is often children who finally move our collective conscience — and certain images hold the power to shift the public debate over immigration. No one can unsee the images Nilufer Demir took of the corpse of Alan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian boy found dead on a Turkish beach in 2015, while John Moore's shot of a crying girl near the Mexico-U.S. border helped spark the outcry last spring over the American policy of separating migrant children from their parents.

The sad truth is that the vast majority of the suffering and stories go undocumented. Even sadder are those who disappear along the way without a trace, leaving behind loved ones back home with grief and uncertainty. Italian daily La Stampa reports on a new book by Cristina Cattaneo, a Milan professor of forensics and legal medicine, who has helped lead an effort for the past five years to document the identities of the estimated 30,000 would-be migrants who have died trying to cross the Mediterranean since 2001.

The vast majority of the suffering and stories go undocumented.

"Nobody ever thought to do for them what we do for ourselves," Cattaneo explained. "To give them an identity and give a response to the mothers, children, grandparents, to let them know if they should keep waiting or make their peace."

These 192 pages of text, entitled Naufraghi senza volto ("The Faceless Shipwrecked") help remind us of the real power of the photographs above: to tell the story of those who could not be seen.

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Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.

Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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