Living in limbo: How refugees pass time at an asylum centre in Italy

Photojournalist César Dezfuli has been named the 2017 Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize winner. In this remarkable gallery he shows refugees who have crossed the Mediterranean Sea now living in limbo in Biella, north Italy.

César Dezfuli first met Malick Jeng when he was rescued from the Mediterranean.

Malick was 19 when he and 120 others were pulled from their rubber dinghy on August 2 2016. They were among 362,753 people to reach Europe by crossing the Mediterranean last year. Of those, more than 180,000 were rescued and taken to Italy.

Leaving the coast of Libya six hours earlier, they had paid smugglers for their passage.

César, travelling aboard the rescue vessel Iuventa, owned by German NGO Jugend Rettet, photographed each of the men and boys (some as young as 15) from Gambia, Senegal, Ghana, Guinea and Nigeria the moment after their rescue in an attempt to humanise a crisis that is frequently reduced to statistics in the media.

César has now won the prestigious Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize for his work that day, and will be featured in the National Portrait Gallery in London.

Malick had left his hometown, Banjul in Gambia, five months earlier, fleeing the corruption and political persecution that were rife under dictator Yahya Jammeh.

After travelling through Senegal, he nearly suffocated hiding inside an oil tank to cross the Sahara.

When he reached Libya he was imprisoned for a month, where he witnessed the murder of some of his fellow inmates, before his family sent money to pay for his release.

After the rescue, César stayed in touch with Malick, later visiting him at a temporary reception centre for refugees and asylum seekers in Biella, Italy, where he has been living ever since, sharing a room with three other men.

This little town has one of the highest proportions of migrants in Italy.

An old hotel, Hotel Colibri, has been turned into an asylum centre run by a co-operative which receives funding per migrant per day from the Italian government for its administration.

Refugees like Malick can wait up to two years for an answer to their asylum application, during which time they are not permitted to work.

In the images below César moves from the rescue boat to the asylum centre to document daily life in a state of limbo as these young men wait to restart their lives.

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NB: Article was updated on November 14 2017 when César Dezfuli was announced the winner of the 2017 Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2017.