MIGRANTS: Residents and volunteers at Ritsona Camp, Greece.

 

My intention with the project ‘MIGRANTS: Residents and volunteers at Ritsona Camp’ is not to have a voice as a curator but to let other voices to be heard.

 

Back in June I curated the photography exhibition ‘MIGRANTS: What does migration mean to you?’. The exhibition was an opportunity for photographers, students and the general public to showcase their work during the Refugee & EU Referendum week. With the intention of giving voice to all points of view on migration in society both within the UK and Internationally, participants were invited to consider the question: What does migration mean to you?

 

The work on show in the exhibition was very diverse, but after reflecting on the it I realised that I missed submissions from those individuals that are not allowed to be members of society, the members of the refugee community. This made me think that I needed to reach for their voices. I wanted to hear as many voices as possible.

 

I decided to go to the Ritsona camp and volunteer for the NGO I AM YOU (teaching the children at the camp arts and crafts workshops) and put together a photography and storytelling workshop for the people in the camp. I wanted them to participate and tell their own stories.

 

In the beginning, it was very hard for me to reach out to them. I have never done a project like this before and it took me around ten days to start the project. I did not know where to start or how to approach the people. Who was I to ask them to participate and to tell me their stories? I did not even speak their languages Kurdish or Arabic.

 

Those first days working as a volunteer with the children in the community facilitated this process, I learned about them and slowly I gained the trust of the residents of the camp.  

 

The first people that I approached were Ivan and his brother Alan. They told me that they very happy to take part in the workshop and that they wanted to tell me their story. They had a photograph that wanted to exhibit. This opened the way for more people who wanted to collaborate. With Ivan’s and Alan’s help I could reach more people with the project and translate their stories. In the end, people were coming to me with their stories. Their wiliness to be part of this project was overwhelming. William, another of the volunteers helped taking photographs for those who did not own a camera.

 

In the camp children had the school and many activities, but adults did not have that many. They were in the camp not doing much, they were isolated living in a forest during the hot days of summer. This project gave them a sense of purpose and the most important their voices can be heard.

 

This is one of the photographs and story shown in the exhibition:

 

1 Youset Abu Ibrahim

 

When I was younger, between 1998-2003, I went to University and studied Tourism and Hotel Management. I worked in South Arabia for five years; where I saved some money. Then I started my own company which I kept until 2011, when the Syrian Revolution started. Before the war started, I was earning a good salary and was very happy with my family united. I was a business man, an entrepreneur. I was privileged to have a good life.

 

Before, I had a normal life. My life was my own town Khansheikhoun and my family. My life was normal, like anybody else’s.

 

When the revolution started, the regime’s army attacked our town, arrested and killed people. They burned my house and factory. I became jobless and homeless. My family and I run away from the war. We went to a different town. Looking to save my family we moved around six different villages, in three and a half years. During those years, I came up to terms that there was no future in Syria. My children needed to go to school and I discussed this with my wife who agreed that we needed to leave Syria.

 

I decided to claim asylum in Europe, because there were no jobs that suited my skills in Turkey. The only jobs available were in construction sites. We arrived in Greece and were taken to Ritsona Camp, I would never have imagined that life in Europe could be like this. Although there is no war in Ritsona, we are suffering so much stress cramped in the tents. This is slowly killing us. I visited the Doctor, who told me that I suffer from high blood pressure. He said that I needed to relax. I cannot relax when I have four kids and one of them is only 45 days old.

 

I do not want to be given anything. I want to have my freedom, to take my children to school, to work and to have a normal life. Right now, I am just hoping for my children’s life to begin in a safe place, at last.

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