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LOST FAMILY PORTRAITS

Refugee Camp, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon

‘Lost Family Portraits’ is a collaboration between CAFOD, the creative agency M&C Saatchi, and photographer Dario Mitidieri.

These photographs of refugee families in Lebanon reflect their ‘lost’ loved ones, symbolised by empty chairs, or unfilled arms.

Read their stories here…

LOST FAMILY PORTRAITS

Refugee Camp, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon

‘Lost Family Portraits’ is a collaboration between CAFOD, the creative agency M&C Saatchi, and photographer Dario Mitidieri. These photographs of refugee families in Lebanon reflect their ‘lost’ loved ones, symbolised by empty chairs, or unfilled arms.

Read their stories here…

Khawle’s family

“It took us three days to get here,” says 44-year-old Khawle. “The bus dropped us on the mountain and we had to walk the rest of the way.”

Khawle travelled from her home in Syria with her three children, but the bus that brought her would not take them all the way.

“We met with problems. My 11-year-old daughter was beaten so badly by armed men, she couldn’t move for days.”

Khawle’s daughter has been living with a learning disability all of her life.

The family arrived in the Bekaa Valley, but they weren’t complete: “I couldn’t bring all the members of my family with me. The youngest is with my mother. The bombs stopped us from being together.

“Children are sad here, there is nothing for them to do, and there is no means for me to earn money.

“Perhaps we might stay like this for the rest of our lives. I don’t have anything to be happy for, just to live like this, here in our tent. I feel sad to be here without all my children.”

When asked about this portrait of her family, Khawle says, “A photograph speaks of family happiness, everyone smiling together. This photograph is full of tears.”

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“Perhaps we might stay like this for the rest of our lives. I don’t have anything to be happy for, just to live like this, here in our tent. I feel sad to be here without all my children.”

Khawle, Syrian Refugee

The Project

‘Lost Family Portraits’ is an idea developed by the advertising agency, M&C Saatchi for CAFOD. It aims to tell the story of those who have lost family members in the refugee crisis. Through a series of still photographs, it shows the emotional impact of war on normal people – wives, husbands, farmers, taxi drivers, teachers, shopkeepers and students – who have run from their homes in Syria.

The Portraits

The portraits take the warmth and happiness we expect to see in a studio photograph and place them against the stark reality of life in a refugee camp. This aims to bring home to us the acute feelings of disruption, sadness and loss that countless people who have fled from war face every day.

Turn the sound up on your device now and you'll hear ambient sounds and children's songs from one of the camps.

Razir’s family

“Armed men kidnapped my husband, then they shot and killed him. Everything changed then,” says 40-year-old Razir.

The mother of five sits on the deathly cold concrete floor of a tent here near the Syrian border in Lebanon.

“He used to be the only person who earned money in the house. One day, we had bread to eat, another day, we had nothing.”

Razir fled her home seven months ago with very little apart from three of her five children, her identity papers and the clothes on her back.

“My other two girls are 11 and 14. They are both in Syria. I haven’t heard anything from them for seven months. I last saw them when we fled. We had to go quickly and we couldn’t bring them. Money was a big problem – getting enough to escape, so I had to make decisions…”

What would any parent do faced with Razir’s choice? Stay in your home and you all may die. Leave now, separate and you stand a chance of living.

“I wish I could go back to my life. I wish I could go back to Syria to see my daughters and to get work. I can’t though. It is too dangerous back home.”

Razir is clear about her message to people in the UK: “I want you to tell my story. I want my voice to be heard, please do this for me.”

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"My other two girls are 11 and 14. They are both in Syria. I haven’t heard anything from them for seven months. I last saw them when we fled."

Razir, Syrian Refugee

The Journey

The lines on the map indicate the journeys many refugees take from Aleppo and Damascus in Syria into the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon. These are the official, legal crossing points.

The difficulty many face is that legal routes cost more money than they have. So they have to take so-called ‘illegal roads’. These entry points are scattered throughout the mountains bordering Syria and Lebanon.

Some people cross borders into Iraq from Syria and then into Lebanon.

Any journey – legal or illegal – is fraught with danger: many refugees say they were caught in crossfire between warring groups; others mention walking through snow-covered mountains for days; while many groups faced starvation through lack of food, or extreme thirst because they have very little water.

The Bekaa Valley

Once known as the ‘granary of the Roman empire’, the Bekaa Valley is the agricultural heartland of Lebanon. It is around 19 miles east of Beirut and is an extension of the Great Rift Valley.

The 1,500 Camps

While farmers and even restaurants in this famed region continue their work, our church partner in the country, Caritas Lebanon, estimates there are approximately 1,500 camps now in the valley home to an estimated 400,000 women, men and children.

Mahmoud’s family

“I was in the souk with my daughters when the missile killed my wife. She was at home when it struck. She died in the house.”

“Fifteen days later, when there were more bombs, I knew we had to leave. I told the girls to come with me and we left with nothing – just the clothes we were dressed in.”

Mahmoud is only 35, yet he has been through so much. Before he lost his wife, he had open heart surgery, after which doctors said he should not work.

“My wife was the one who worked,” he says. “She was a supervisor in a clothes shop. The money wasn’t quite enough, so our neighbours helped us.”

The loss of their mother has affected all the family: “I am worried about my daughter, Rama – the youngest. She suffers.” She has shrapnel in her arm from a recent airstrike. This makes it painful for her to grasp or carry things, yet Rama clings to her father’s hand. “She cries all the time at school. She doesn’t want to be away from me, she thinks she will lose me.”

“We are so sad and in a bad way. We’re alive, but we have nothing.”

“I worry about my daughters’ futures. What do they have? They tell me, ‘We have no future’, but I tell them, ‘The war will end soon.’ We have to pray for this.

“What we have lost, we have lost. What matters in our lives is what we have now. The most important thing you can do for us is to promote our message.”

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Winter is here. Refugee families desperately need support.

Your help is vital.