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.
I would like to share with you three of their stories:
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.
I am from the countryside near Damascus. In Syria, I was working in construction sites building houses. When the revolution started, I left and moved to the city of Alqunaitera. I did not work, I stayed looking to be safe during one year.
After that I lived three years in the area called Dead Ringers, which is located between Draa, Aquanaitera and Damascus. In Aquanaitera I couldn’t find a job or school for the children. The city was taken by the army and everyday there were bombings and military men arriving. My family and I tried to go to Jordan but we couldn’t due to the borders being closed.
My wife was one month pregnant, when I decided to go to Turkey. We were smuggled by car and walked through fields and forest. It took us 45 days to get to the Turkey’s border, to Ededleb, where we stayed for one month trying to cross over the border. Around the 5th or 6th of February we attempted to cross the border but got caught by the guards and sent back to Ededleb, Syria. Twenty days after we tried again, this time with a smuggler. We walked across the forest, it took us three days to do it and on the 25th of February we reached Antakya, Turkey.
From there we went to Othmania, where we stayed with a friend and rested. Then we travelled to Izmir where we contacted the smugglers that were to take us to Greece, we stayed around four or five nights. Finally, on the 9th of March we boarded a boat and reached Kyos, Greece. We had reservation for the 16th of March to get the ferry to Athens. We arrived to Ritsona Camp on the 17th of March and now we live in a forest.
I just tell you the steps we took moving from one city to another, but in fact it is very difficult to move from one place to another being my wife pregnant and having to look after three other young children while dealing with smugglers.
I was seven years old when I joined Tishreen Football Club in La Takia, a big city by the see in Syria, back in 1987. This was a very important moment in my life because I loved and still love football.
I can remember that I was wearing a red and yellow t-shirt. My father took me to the pitch and the first thing that I saw were the players training. My favourite player was Abdul Kader Kurdagli and the goal-keeper was Ahmad Eid. I played for the team from the year 1987 to 2000.
I left Syria to work in United Arab Emirates. I was working for Abu Dabi National Hotel as hotel public relations officer for the immigration department in the government. I was also working for the Al Ien Football team’s club. I greeted all the football teams that came to UAE, booked their accommodation and transferred the football players from the airport to their hotels.
I worked doing these jobs for fifteen years. Then UAE’s government kicked me out from the country, because I am Syrian. That is why I decided to fly with my family to Greece.
This photograph was taken in June, 2016, one week before the Ramadan. We had just won the final and I scored the first goal. Our team’s in Ritsona is also called Tishreen.
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