Living in Exile: Young Iraqi refugees in Syria

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The Independent Online

In the summer of 2008 New Exposure, with the support of the UNHCR, worked with a group of young Iraqis who sought refuge in Damascus. British photographers Tom Saunderson and Tim Smyth spent one month teaching them the basics of photography and talking about their lives as refugees. The work they produced provides an original and highly personal glimpse into the hopes and fears of ordinary Iraqi people in the wake of the violence which has torn their country apart.

We are showcasing photographs by the students. Click on the image (right) to see the photographs taken by Ali, Saja, Ahmed, Fares, Mais and Amir.

The plight of Iraqi refugees has been largely neglected. More than 1.5 million Iraqis are outside their homeland and a similar number are living as internally displaced persons.

Most Iraqi refugees in Syria fled their homeland following the bombing of Samarra’s Golden Mosque in February 2006, an attack that provoked unprecedented levels of sectarian violence marked by killings, kidnappings and other acts that terrorised civilian populations.

Since fleeing, many Iraqis have found themselves in an increasingly fragile position. Many have suffered great trauma at home and struggle to cope in a foreign country. Formal employment is not permitted and their savings are depleted. Many refugees depend on the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) for vital assistance, healthcare and schooling.

Voluntary repatriation to Iraq is the only practical solution for most Iraqi refugees but is dependent on the restoration of stability and rule of law. UNHCR is working to resettle the most traumatised and vulnerable refugees to third countries like the UK, but the need for resettlement is much greater than the available places. Until a solution can be found, most of Syria's Iraqi exiles must continue to survive using their dwindling resources and UNHCR’s humanitarian support. But UNHCR’s £181 million Iraq operation is less than half funded and certain programmes may never be implemented unless more money is received soon.

New Exposure documents under-reported or misrepresented issues by working with the people who live at the heart of those issues. The organisation equips them with cameras and encourages them to document their lives through photography so they are able to capture their experiences and tell their story in a way only they can.

UNHCR provides protection and assistance for refugees, returnees and many internally displaced persons all over the world. One of the world’s leading humanitarian agencies, UNHCR is almost entirely funded by voluntary contributions

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