How a photo competition changed the lives of father and son Syrian refugees

Alex Hickson
Monday 28 February 2022 10:34
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<p>Mehmet Aslan’s image he titled ‘Hardship of Life’ which won photo of the year at the Siena Awards 2021 </p>

Mehmet Aslan’s image he titled ‘Hardship of Life’ which won photo of the year at the Siena Awards 2021

Turkish photographer Mehmet Aslan took an emotional image of a father playing with his five-year-old son in January 2021. It quickly became an international sensation and dramatically changed the lives of the pair and their family.

Munzir El Nezzel, the man in the picture, lost his right leg when a bomb fell as he walked through a market in Syria in 2014. And his son Mustafa was born without limbs due to a disorder caused by the medication his mother, Zeynep, had to take after being made ill by a deadly sarin gas attack during the country’s civil war.

The powerful image, showing Munzir raising Mustafa above his head while propped on crutches, was shared widely on social media after it was declared photo of the year at the Siena international photo awards in 2021.

Munzir and son Mustafa arrive with their family at the Leonardo da Vinci international airport in Fiumicino, near Rome, Italy

Mustafa and his father quickly made headlines in Italy, prompting organisers of the Siena Awards to start a campaign to get the pair treatment and prosthetics. To date, the fundraiser has received £144,000 in donations.

Now Munzir’s family is starting a new life in Italy. When the photo was taken, they were in a refugee camp in Turkey near the Syrian border. Mustafa and his father needed urgent medical help and prosthetics that weren’t available in Turkey.

Munzir and his son Mustafa are receiving much-needed treatment in Italy

In January, Munzir and Mustafa, along with their mother and two little sisters, aged two and four, arrived at Leonardo da Vinci airport in Fiumicino, near Rome. The father and son have received medical help from the Vigorso di Budrio Prosthetics Centre in Bologna.

The Siena Awards organisers thanked all those who had donated to the campaign and announced: “The dream of giving a better life to little Mustafa and his father Munzir goes beyond all imagination. The two protagonists of the photo that struck the whole world and made thousands of people’s hearts beat are now in Italy.”

The impact of the image was felt far and wide, with Special Envoy to the UN and actor Angelina Jolie even sharing the image on her social media accounts.

The pair have gained massive public sympathy and thousand of pounds-worth of support

Munzir and Mustafa have now begun a new life in Italy thanks to the support they recieved

The pair have been treated at the Performance Centro Medico before they go to the Vigorso di Budrio Prosthetics Centre in Bologna

Next comes the road of recovery for Munzir and a longer road for Mustafa, who is learning to live with artificial limbs. Despite the challenges ahead, the father and son no doubt have the support of the Italian community behind them.

You can see Mehmet Aslan’s photography journey with Munzir and his son Mustafa here. You can also follow the Sienna International Photo Awards here.

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