What does war look like? Protests. Prison cells. Checkpoints. Armed men. Flattened houses. Smoke. Parents holding the bodies of their lifeless children. Entire cities made of dusty tents. Barefoot children selling flowers. Long lines in front of embassies. Black dinghies dotted with orange life preservers that may or may not actually work. Thousands of refugees walking along train tracks and highways. A drowned toddler found on a beach, not far from where his overcrowded boat capsized, killing his brother and mother as well.
Three years ago, I sat in the back of my father’s car as we drove out of Damascus, towards the airport. There were checkpoints every few minutes along the way, and the sounds of explosions and shelling not too far off. I remember trying to fit a decade of memories, of life, into two suitcases, and then giving up. We’ll be back soon, I thought. We have not been back since.
The Syrian social uprising turned international conflict has left approximately 250,000 killed since March 2011. More than half of the population is displaced, with approximately 4 million refugees living in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq. Many who left behind their homes also thought they would return soon, and millions have not been back since. As the conflict drags on with no solution in sight and limited opportunities in neighboring countries, thousands of refugees are arriving daily on the coasts of Greece and making their way through the Balkans, risking their lives in the hopes of a better future in Europe.
I recently returned from a trip with The WorldPost’s Middle East correspondent Sophia Jones, where we followed several families and groups of friends on their journeys from Turkey to Germany, through Greece, the Balkans, Hungary and Austria. Their stories were diverse, yet interconnected with an iron determination to reach their goals regardless of all the obstacles, from the dangers at sea and human traffickers, to closed borders and police harassment.
For the next nine months I will be spending three months in each of Jordan, Turkey and Sweden, documenting and sharing the triumphs and frustrations of Syrians in diaspora, witnessing the conditions and obstacles they face in neighboring countries that for many fuels their determination to move on towards Europe. As different borders close and open, Syrians are increasingly becoming a people without a place, or perhaps, a people of many places, and many stories. This is #SnapshotsOfExile.A small school in an unofficial camp outside of Zaatari, Jordan. The graffiti reads “Hope will rise someday”. September 2015.