Beyond Refuge


Syria’s ongoing war has caused one of the largest migration movements in modern history. The United Nations estimates over six million Syrians are externally displaced, with many more uncounted. 

Refugee is a sour word. In the West, there are preconceptions: sad eyed children in camps and inflatable boats. Images of refugees suffering make the pain of war palpable, but don’t hint at a future for the people involved. There’s a long term reality that goes beyond gut reactions to the horrors of war.

The story for displaced Syrians is still unfolding. I saw this clearly when I started working on this project in Istanbul -- a city that’s become a microcosm of life beyond refuge. My project evolved organically to adapt to the scope of Syrian migration. I’ve followed stories of refugee resettlement and bureaucratic stagnation from the U.S. to Malaysia.

Assimilation offers a new, often less graphic set of challenges for Syrians. Immobility and uncertainty are exacerbated by inconsistencies with documentation, work, and resettlement. Freedom for Syrians in diaspora isn’t only about limited movement but continued restrictions on a chance at normality.

Amid challenges, there are triumphs. Creativity and innovation flourish as Syrian lives take root around the world. Although some people are stuck for now, their situations are not permanent but stories of transition.

Coverage of the Syrian diaspora requires attention beyond images of suffering and war, which can fuel xenophobia and Islamophobia. Stories of integration can humanize and challenge prejudice encouraged by Western politics. This project seeks to create a nuanced conversation about refugees and what they can contribute.

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