Seeking Shelter

After almost four and a half years of war in Syria almost half of the population has now been displaced. Nearly four million people have fled across its borders to the surrounding countries of Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan, while more than six and a half million are internally displaced. For the first time since World War II the global number of refugees now exceeds 50 million with Syria being the worst affected country followed by Afghanistan. It is the greatest humanitarian emergency of our era.

At times there is chaos and drama as people flee their homes in desperation and fear. There are long dangerous journeys crossing borders by land or by boat carrying past lives in a few bags. But ultimately the lives depicted in these pictures and the reality for most is one of boredom and frustration, of waiting, of hoping, of remembering. Reestablishing a sense of domestic life and daily rituals become the main source of purpose and a way to pass the time while men can't work and children can't go to school. It is during these moments of domesticity and family togetherness that many of these photographs came to be.

The pride in the small living spaces and the level of domesticity in the tented settlements, rented shop fronts and government-run camps throughout the region belies the hardship and daily struggle that these people experience. Pet cats and pigeons carried covertly across borders hint at the permanence of their displacement and a belief that they have no idea if and when they will ever be able to return. Relatives and communities that once lived side by side in what was a very family orientated society have been transplanted into refugee camps and isolated valleys in surrounding countries. The importance bestowed upon the family unit and the wider community has perhaps helped those who have fled to endure thus far.

The conditions faced by some refugees can rival the misery they left behind. It is remarkable to witness the speed at which a rural Syrian family can adapt to life in a tent in the rugged landscape of Southern Lebanon. Years spent working off the land and enduring hardship before the war started seems to have prepared some of the millions who have fled for what they face now. That said, the war has not been biased and the middle class can be also be found penniless, living in the same camps and tents, in a way less equipped to cope.

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