Lost Family Portraits: Photographing the Syrian refugee crisis in Lebanon

Dario Mitidieri in Bekaa Refugee Camp, Lebanon
Dario Mitidieri in Bekaa Refugee Camp, Lebanon

Dario Mitidieri began his career as a professional photographer in 1987 working for The Sunday Telegraph and The Independent newspapers. In his long and illustrious career, he has travelled to Tiananmen Square in Beijing to witness the army repression of students. He has also photographed the conflict in Northern Ireland, the Iraq War, the 2005 Tsunami in Indonesia and the Kobe Earthquake in Japan. He recently travelled to the Bekaa valley, Lebanon, with CAFOD and creative agency M&C Saatchi where he worked on studio-styled portraits of twelve families who have fled the conflict in Syria.

It is early – just before eight, but winding through the steep hill side roads of Lebanon’s capital Beirut, there is a frenzy of building work: hotels and luxury apartments going up. This ancient, open city is alive.

Once we leave the concrete landscape behind us, the undulating hills of the Bekaa valley – Lebanon’s agricultural pulse and once the ‘breadbasket of the Roman Empire’ – come into view. Overnight there has been a first dusting of snow on the hills.

Just over the mountain ridge, some nine kilometres away is the border with Syria.

I’m heading to a Syrian refugee camp, with CAFOD and its partner, the Caritas Lebanon Migrant Centre.

Just before Christmas, I came together with CAFOD, the Caritas Lebanon Migrant Centre and the creative agency, M&C Saatchi, to work on a unique project to highlight the plight of Syrian refugees: Lost Family Portraits.

See some of the Lost Family Portraits

The idea is to take a pop-up studio and set it up in some of the camps and take family portraits of Syrian refugees, with empty chairs symbolising the loved ones they have left behind or lost due to this horrific six-year war. Continue reading “Lost Family Portraits: Photographing the Syrian refugee crisis in Lebanon”

Why Syrians become refugees: a view from Aleppo

Bishop AudoBishop Antoine Audo, SJ is the Chaldean Bishop of Aleppo and the President of Caritas Syria. He writes:

If you want to know why so many Syrians are seeking a new life in Europe, just come to Aleppo. Large parts of our city have been laid to waste. Bombs and rockets fall every day, and we never know when or where they will hit. We do not feel safe in our homes, in our schools, in the streets, in our churches or in our mosques. It is exhausting to live with this fear hour after hour, day after day.

Even without the shelling, life here would be almost unbearable. Throughout the summer, as temperatures have soared, people have been forced to cope without running water or electricity in their homes. Four out of five people don’t have a job, so families are not able to afford food or basic supplies. The middle-classes have become poor, while the poor are now destitute. Many of those who are still here are elderly. Almost no-one is still in Aleppo by choice: most of those who remain do not have enough money to leave.

I have been the Chaldean Bishop of Aleppo for 25 years, and it fills me with sadness to see what has happened to my city. As President of Caritas Syria, I have chosen to stay so I can lead distributions of food and emergency supplies, with support from Catholics in England and Wales and their aid agency CAFOD. But our work is becoming harder, because more and more of our staff are leaving the country. I do not blame them, but their departure makes the task of helping those in need even more difficult.

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In some parts of the country, we have had to suspend our operations. In 2014, my colleagues in the city of Hassakeh provided vulnerable Syrians of every faith with vouchers for food, clothes and school equipment as well as covering the costs of medical treatment. In total, they reached over 20,000 people. But this July, as the city fell to extremists, all our staff had to flee at short notice. One of my colleagues had given birth only three days beforehand. Continue reading “Why Syrians become refugees: a view from Aleppo”

International Day of Peace – 21 September 2015

Tabitha Ross is a CAFOD freelancer who works in Lebanon. On International Day of Peace she tells us about Eman and Hanigal – two mothers who have been forced to leave their homes in Syria because of the ongoing conflict.

Eman’s story

Eman's nieces in Lebanon
Eman’s nieces in Lebanon

Sitting on a blanket on the grass in the warmth of the sun, Eman looks shell-shocked to find herself in Lebanon, safe from the fear of violence for the first time in nearly four years. When I meet her, she has been here just over two weeks.

Despite coming from Daraa, the region of Syria where the uprising first began on 15 March 2011, and which has seen bitter fighting and bombing, Eman only decided to flee the country this year.

I ask what was the final straw, after so much suffering, that pushed her to leave. With tears in her eyes she said: “At the start of the war my husband disappeared, so I didn’t want to leave because I had the idea that he would come back. But in February my house was bombed and destroyed, so I decided to come here.”

Please support our Refugee Crisis Appeal

Eman tells me how she and her four children spent three days on the road from Daraa to Damascus. Reaching the capital, they spent two nights sleeping in the freezing street. Finally a taxi driver took pity on them and brought them here to Lebanon, where she is staying with a cousin in an unfinished breeze block construction in the Bekaa Valley.

“I feel ashamed because I have no money and the family that I am staying with have barely any money either. Maybe we eat one day and then for three days we do not, because we don’t have the money to buy food,” she said. Continue reading “International Day of Peace – 21 September 2015”

Syria crisis: healthcare for refugees

By Tabitha Ross, CAFOD freelancer in Lebanon

In Syria, it’s traditionally a source of great pride to be the mother of sons, and Ghossoun was rightly proud of her five boys. Brought up on a farm in the Homs region of Syria, each one grew up and went into the army when he left home – a stable and respectable career at the time. Ghossoun and her husband were left at home with their youngest, their only girl.

Ghossoun, Syrian refugee in Lebanon - CAFOD and Caritas
Ghossoun

Then Syria descended into war.

Ghossoun’s sons were targeted

“We didn’t want to participate in the war. We were neither with the government nor against it. But unfortunately we were not allowed that option,” said Ghossoun.

Because they were in the army, her sons were targeted as government supporters, although Ghossoun says their choice of career was not a political statement. The threats got worse, and one terrible day, Ghossoun’s husband was murdered as he worked on the farm.

Fearing for her children’s lives, Ghossoun fled to Lebanon with her family.

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This made her sons military deserters, and now they are in trouble with both the Syrian government and its opponents. “We told the authorities that their father was killed and their lives were threatened, but of course they didn’t believe us,” she said.

They have also been pursued to Lebanon by the group that killed her husband, and have had to move around several times. Now they live in hiding, only leaving the house when absolutely necessary. Continue reading “Syria crisis: healthcare for refugees”

Harsh life for Iraqis in Kurdistan

By Rachel Felgines from CAFOD partner Caritas International 

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Caritas distribute aid to Yazidi families in Zacho
CAFOD partners distribute aid to  families in Zakho

Zakho, northern Iraq. Against a green backdrop surrounded by peaks still capped with snow, the town’s small colourful houses – blue, green and pink – are ranged in bright sunlight under a deep blue sky. Yet who knows what kind of scenes are being played out today in these mountains, whose tranquillity is only a facade, and which now protect what has become a refuge for thousands of Iraqis who fled the violence and massacres that took place in Iraq last summer.

I’m on the road with the Caritas Iraq team, which is being supported by donations to CAFOD and other Catholic agencies around the world.

We stop in a no man’s land in front of a building of which only the ground level and foundations have been completed. This is where around 100 Yazidi families – from the community persecuted and massacred by the extremist group known as Islamic State – live, or rather are crammed together. The majority of these families live in what might one day be the garage of this building. Hidden underground. Pieces of wood, cloth, plexiglass and cardboard provide makeshift partitions to separate the families; a few square metres that disappear from view to give a semblance of privacy. A few light bulbs hang along the immense corridor trying in vain to illuminate the prevailing darkness. Indeed, this marks progress, as a few months ago there was no electricity at all. Total darkness confined within icy concrete walls.

Caritas heard about these families that are in a state of absolute destitution a few weeks ago and has come to meet them. When the Caritas Iraq team arrived in this makeshift camp, no-one took any notice of them. Several organisations had previously come to see these families, asked them questions and promised to bring them aid. But since then they have never returned. So these abandoned families have no reason to believe in any possible support, and in part rely only on themselves. Continue reading “Harsh life for Iraqis in Kurdistan”

My life in Aleppo – A mother’s story

Mariana works for a CAFOD partner in Syria, providing life-saving food and emergency supplies to people who continue to be torn apart by the four year conflict. Read her story.

Fear and worry are my constant companions, never leaving my side when I’m at home or when I go to work. This is because of the continuous deadly shelling. You never get use to that sound, its power and then the haunting silence afterwards, followed by the cries of the injured.

CAFOD Syrian mother
Mariana

About the author: Mariana works for a CAFOD partner in Syria, providing life-saving food and emergency supplies to people who continue to be torn apart by the four year conflict.

Two years ago I was sitting on our balcony with my daughter, singing many songs, when suddenly we were rocked by a powerful explosion. We froze. I watched my daughter’s face grow paler and paler, and then we heard the screams of a woman. The shell had landed on the pushchair of her two-year-old daughter, and her husband’s leg had been blown off.

So when I go to work, I ask myself, “Will I reach my job safely today?”

I’m 37 years old. I married in 2010 in Aleppo, and have three children, two daughters and a baby son. In 2012 my husband lost his job – the factory where he was working was destroyed in the fighting. So now I am the breadwinner for my family, employed as an aid worker, with one of CAFOD’s partners in Syria.

Please keep supporting CAFOD’s long-term work and sign up to our direct debit for our Lent appeal. Your first three months will be matched by the UK government.
Continue reading “My life in Aleppo – A mother’s story”

Syria crisis: what’s it like to live without light?

Nick Harrop - CAFOD World News Officer
Nick Harrop


Four years since the start of the Syria crisis, Nick Harrop, CAFOD’s World News Officer, looks at what life is like for those living in Syria.

“I am worried for my children,” says a mother who fled to Lebanon. “They need to get an education. But I don’t feel safe to go home. Sadly I feel there is no future for my children in Syria now.”

“For four years, we have been living in the depths of the cold in a bloody war,” says a CAFOD partner delivering aid in Syria. “War has left us without any way to defend ourselves against the cold. We have no electricity most of the time, no fuel and no gas. We have no way to stay warm apart from putting on many layers of clothes, which don’t help so much when it’s minus eight degrees.”

Support those in Syria

“We used to have a home and a settled life,” says a father who has fled to a refugee camp in Jordan. “Our children went to school each day. But now…” – he shakes his head – “there is nothing left.”

How the crisis started

It is four years since a small group of demonstrators staged a protest against the rule of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus. Within days, the protests spread, and several people were killed. It was a serious political crisis, and a significant moment in the so-called Arab Spring, but few would have imagined that it would turn into the worst humanitarian catastrophe of the twenty-first century. Continue reading “Syria crisis: what’s it like to live without light?”

Syrian crisis fourth anniversary: meet two families who fled to Lebanon

15 March sees the Syria crisis enter its fourth year. As the crisis continues to deepen, and the human suffering is greater than ever before, we would like to introduce you to two families who have been affected by the conflict in Syria. With money raised by CAFOD supporters across England and Wales our partner, Caritas Lebanon, is able to support Syrian refugees fleeing the conflict to Lebanon, with vital food, health and education services. 

As part of the #WithSyria campaign CAFOD is calling for world leaders to find a political agreement to end the conflict.

Sign the #WithSyria petition today

Abir and Tony

Abir, Tony and their triplets
Abir, Tony and their triplets

Abir and Tony are Syrian refugees who  fled to Lebanon in 2011, when the conflict intensified in their country.  Thirteen months ago they had they had triplets that were born ten weeks premature. With support from CAFOD partner Caritas Lebanon and from the UN Refugee Agency – UNHCR the babies received the vital hospital care they needed, and today all three children are healthy.  Continue reading “Syrian crisis fourth anniversary: meet two families who fled to Lebanon”