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Migration in the Americas: The end of North America

Kadir van Lohuizen / NOOR

BP oil installations seen from the air.

Photojournalist Kadir van Lohuizen traveled from the southern tip of South America to the far reaches of Alaska on the North American continent to explore migration in the Americas. What he found both supported and defied stereotypes, which he reported on a website and an app for iPad called Via Panam.

Deadhorse, Alaska, lies on what its residents call “The Slope,” the coastal plain along the Arctic Ocean formally known as the North Slope. For a town with a total population (including part-timers) of only a few thousand, it has a very lively airport. Several large planes fly to and from Fairbanks and other Alaskan cities daily. Formally, Deadhorse is not a municipality, but an industrial zone. Its facilities and security are provided by privately owned businesses, not the government.

Kadir van Lohuizen / NOOR

Arrival of workers at Deadhorse airport.

Deadhorse lies at the end of the Pan American Highway, in the extreme north of Alaska. The place owes its existence to the oil that has been extracted from the ground around since the 1970s - generally by international companies that lease the land from the indigenous peoples. Almost all of the residents of Deadhorse are migrants from “the Lower 48” (the contiguous  United States) or from Latin America.

At more than 586,000 square miles, Alaska is by far the largest state in the United States. It is also the least densely populated. Fairbanks, the second-largest city in the state after Anchorage, lies in the middle of the state. The Dalton Highway runs north from there, ending at Deadhorse and the oil fields at Prudhoe Bay, on the Arctic Ocean. The road was built in 1974, to support the construction and maintenance of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. About 250 semitrailers travel the road daily to supply the oil businesses around Prudhoe Bay.

The work sites of the oil companies are mostly leased from the Iñupiat, the indigenous people of Alaska’s Northwest Arctic. The Iñupiat receive a considerable income from the leases, but not everyone is happy with the oil extraction. One Iñupiat-owned company, called NANA, is active in mining, the hotel sector, the oil industry, tourism, catering and security services. The profits go to projects for the 12,500 members of the Inupiat community.

Kadir van Lohuizen / NOOR

Paulette McNab, 42, is from Indiana. When she was 20 years old she came with her father to Wasilla, Alaska and in 2008 she came to Deadhorse. 'I work as a housekeeper at the Prudhoe Bay hotel, where many workers stay. The people are really nice here and I love my work. I work 12 hours a day, seven days a week. Every month I get two weeks off and I go back to Wasilla where my daughter lives.'

The Trans-Alaska Pipeline runs nearly 800 miles, making it one of the longest in the world. It was built between 1974 and 1977, just after the 1973 oil crisis. There was considerable protest against its construction from environmental groups and native peoples, on whose territory the oil extraction takes place. Every day 700,000 barrels of crude oil are pumped through this pipeline from Prudhoe Bay to the southern port city of Valdez, just east of Anchorage. Oil is by far the largest source of income for Alaska.

Kadir van Lohuizen / NOOR

A tanning saloon at the Prudhoe Bay hotel which houses hundreds of migrant workers who work in the oil (related) industry.

Hundreds of migrant workers in the oil sector live at the Prudhoe Bay Hotel. They drive to their jobs daily at oil rigs or businesses connected with the oil industry. Life in Deadhorse consists of working hard, often four weeks on and two weeks off. There is no time for pleasure. Moreover, there is hardly any entertainment, and alcohol is banned.

Kadir van Lohuizen / NOOR

Cameron Milroy, 25, was born in Kotzebue on the west coast of Alaska. His mother is native, his father Scottish - Irish. He grew up with his father in Oregon. When Cameron was 20 years he came back to Alaska and got a job with Nanan (a native oil company) in Deadhorse. 'I started as a cleaner, but now I am a 'level 1' truck driver. I enjoy the climate here.'

K. van Lohuizen / NOOR

From Colombians fleeing war to North Americans retirees moving to Nicaragua, a photographer's journey from Chile to Alaska explores both the expected and unexpected patterns of migration in the Americas

Experience the entire journey, from Chile to Alaska, by exploring the slideshow at right, the Via Panam website or by downloading the app for iPad.

More Photoblogs from the Migration in the Americas series: 
Mom works in US while family stays in El Salvador
US retirees flock to Nicaragua

On the run from water in Panama

Bolivia hopes for windfall from producing lithium

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