Syrian refugees share 'safe space'

The photographers Image copyright Tabitha Ross

The conflict in Syria that began in 2011 has made millions of refugees flee the country, many making their way to neighbouring Lebanon.

Officially there are about 1.1 million registered refugees in Lebanon - though the actual figure is believed to be far higher - many of them children.

UK charity Christian Aid has been working with Lebanese organisation Mouvement Social on a photographic project to help young refugees from Syria integrate with Lebanese youth.

The children, aged between 11 and 17, were asked to focus on their "safe space" and what made them happy and to express that in an image.

"Children around the world love photography and these kids were no different," says Tabitha Ross, a photographer based in Beirut who led the project.

"They delighted in taking pictures of each other, family, friends, and the city, and they grew in confidence in their photography throughout the project.

"It was also great to see them instinctively focus on the people, places and things that made them feel happy and comfortable, using the cameras to help them focus on the beauty in life despite everything they have been through."

Here is a selection of the pictures taken by the students, images that come to life when you read the story that inspired them.


Image copyright Christian Aid/ Mouvement Social/ Jan

Jan, 11, is from a rural area in northern Syria now under Islamic State control. He has been in Beirut since 2012 but still misses the countryside. He liked to photograph birds, trees and greenery, highlighting the nature he loves.

He said: "When I feel upset, I sit and look at nature and feel better."


Image copyright Christian Aid

Teenagers all over the world retreat to their bedrooms when they want personal space, and 15-year-old Kurdish Syrian Lamiss is no different.

She said: "I really feel comfortable in my bedroom. I share it with my sister. I have lots of pictures on the walls. It's where I go if I have nothing to do, or if I want time alone.

"If I were choosing just one picture about my safe space I'd choose this one. I like it and it makes me feel something strange and special at the same time. Special because I am alone, and what's strange about it is that whenever I'm alone I feel comfortable."


Image copyright Christian Aid

Lebanese Ali, 14, took pictures on the roof of his house, because this is where he feels most secure. He feels that the streets aren't safe, and both home and the Mouvement Social centre that Ali attends in lieu of school are full of people.

The roof is one of the only places he can be alone and relax, even though there's not much to do up there other than mess about with the hose or water the plants.

He said: "The roof is my safe space. There's nothing special about it. Just when I'm upset or angry, I go to the roof and I feel calm because I look at the space and the big buildings."


Image copyright Christian Aid

Beirut's coastline often makes many of the children feel safe. Aslan, 12, loves going down to the sea with his family.

He said: "I like it that there is sun in the picture and the sea is very calm. I like it when the sky is blue and you can only hear the sound of the sea. Then I feel that everything is calm. And I feel relaxed."


Image copyright Christian Aid

Many children chose to focus on an individual or group of people who made them feel secure. Alma, the fifth of eight children in her family, photographed her elder brother.

She said: "I really, really love him, and whatever I ask of him he always does for me. He loves me too."


Image copyright Christian Aid

Several children enjoyed taking pictures of old photographs and using these as a way of depicting their happy memories of safe spaces in Syria.

Stephanie, 14, took this picture of an old snap of her cousin by a little river near her grandfather's land in the countryside near Homs.

She said: "Each and every holiday, we would go to my grandparents' house, and the first thing I'd do in the morning was ask to go there. I feel like I'm an explorer when I go there."


Image copyright Christian Aid

Many of the children photographed activities within the Mouvement Social centre, where they go every day and see their friends, teachers and the counsellor. Noody, 15, took this picture of the younger children in a drama class.

He said: "They were relaxed and it was a safe space so I wanted to take a picture."


Image copyright Christian Aid

Leila, 11, photographed the view from her window through a transparent curtain embroidered with flowers.

She said: "This means that I like flowers, and the clouds, and the area I live in. And it says that I like high places. I feel comfortable when I look at the sky. I really like the clouds."


Image copyright Christian Aid

Jihan, 15, from the Aleppo countryside, took a series of pictures of the view from her balcony at home, followed by one of her looking out over the city.

She said: "I really feel comforted when I look at the sky. I don't know why, but it looks clear and it makes me feel clear."

In this way, Jihan finds her own sense of space and freedom.


Image copyright Christian Aid

Ibo, 17, told the story of a safe space within Syria - a cave he and his family had dug out as a bomb shelter when the area they lived in came under heavy attack.

He took pictures of old photographs taken at the time.

He said : "This is me and my littlest sister, in the days when we were living in the cave. We made it very warm and cosy in there. Inside, the temperature was always the opposite of outside  - in summer it was cool, and in winter it was warm. We used to sleep in there. We couldn't feel the difference between day and night, because there was no light."


Image copyright Christian AId

Hayleen, 14, is from an area of Syria that has seen heavy fighting and experienced a lot of bombing. Her family had to leave their house and live in a school that had been turned into a collective shelter, with many other families, for several months before fleeing to Beirut.

She brought her teddy bear through all of this.

She said: "I can't sleep without this, I don't know why. I love it a lot. I've had it since I was really small. I brought it with me when I came to Lebanon."


Image copyright Christian Aid

Technology allows young people to maintain the bonds linking them to family still in Syria, using communication to establish each other's safety. Rania, from Aleppo, took images from the instant messaging service WhatsApp.

She said: "I like WhatsApp and use it to stay in touch with people. This is a picture of my phone showing a love heart that was sent to me from someone I love a lot. I took these pictures because they show the connections between me and my family in Syria."

You can read more about each picture and other stories about those featured on Beirut Friends: Our Life in Pictures. The work is soon to be exhibited in Beirut.

The names of the children have been changed.

All photographs Christian Aid/Mouvement Social.