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Personal photos and stories from the men, women, and children behind the Syrian Refugee Crisis
265 backers pledged $22,264 to help bring this project to life.

About

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I was born and raised in Aleppo, Syria and immigrated to the United States in 2003 at the age of 15. I’ve kept in touch with my family and friends over summer trips to Syria until the war started in 2011. My relationship to the war and its reality has always been distant, both geographically and emotionally. Over time as the conflict intensified, the refugee crisis swelled. The places that defined my childhood were broadcast on international media in ruins. The stories I read and watched in the news became personal.

An urge to do something kept building. Given my fluency in Arabic and my career in engineering, design, and photography, I found myself in a unique position to take some time to give a megaphone to people who need it now more than ever, but I wasn’t sure what form that would take.

The Catholic Church I attended in Syria.
The Catholic Church I attended in Syria.

I looked back at other diasporas through history. I thought about how much strength in identity the ancestors derived from the stories of their forbearers. In acknowledging the gravity of the situation in Syria, I wanted to document the stories of my own family, for posterity.

Every Syrian family has their own stories of shock and disbelief from the war. When the stories and pictures of the swelling crisis caught a wave of media attention recently, I realized people were truly paying attention, but that the personal, nuanced voices of the refugees were missing.

That's when I met Sara in New York. We first recognized a shared urge to capture raw stories through photography and writing, and quickly realized that by combining our skills and energies, we can make something happen with this project much bigger than either of us can on our own. We decided that now was the time to embark on this project.

Below is the high level overview of the project and our aims for it:

Goal

We want to shine a more human and personal light onto the historic migration of Syrians into Europe. Using intimate photography and storytelling to humanize the refugees, we want to generate empathy, and a deeper understanding of the crisis.

We’ll be focusing on the motivations behind their migration, the reality and life they’ve left behind, and the minutiae of the journey. How do they communicate? How do they ensure their own safety? When we arrive at the destination countries (Germany, Austria, Sweden, and Norway), we’ll look at how they’re integrating into their adopted nations.

An explicit non-goal of the project is to capture the macro story. Plenty of journalists are in the field reporting on what is happening. We want to capture who it’s happening to and how it’s affecting them.

Sara and I will interview and photograph Syrians as they embark, travel, and reach their destinations. Their stories will be intermixed with locals to add context and balance to the story.

Deliverables 

Throughout the journey, we’ll be taking photos, recording voice and video interviews, and journaling the trip itself. Highlights from each day will be shared as snippets, Humans-Of-New-York-style. We’ll publish a longer-form daily journal describing the happenings, interviews, people, and travel of the day. The stories will be woven at the end into a narrative.

Itinerary 

The trip will begin in Kos, the landing island in Greece that many refugees use. After spending some time there talking to people about their motivations in leaving, their preparations, and their hopes, we’ll move along the route and talk to people along the route. Once we arrive in Austria, Germany and Sweden, we’ll document people in their new lives. Throughout, we’ll hope to meet some locals and share their feelings and emotions about this historic event.

List of destinations:

  • Kos (Greece) 
    One of the most popular landing destinations for the trip. Hundreds of Syrians are arriving daily on the shores of this tourist destination, often on small, unstable, inflatable boats. 
  • Belgrade (Serbia)
    Once on the mainland of Europe, the migration route runs through the Balkan states as refugees find their way to more economically prosperous northern and western Europe. These countries are chokepoints along the route, with the refugees facing hostility from the Eastern-Bloc governments. 
  • Budapest (Hungary)
    Hungary’s been in the news a lot recently. The government has resisted the flow of refugees through its lands, but the people have been much more welcoming. That tension sits centerstage in Budapest. 
  • Vienna (Austria)
    Once in Austria, the treatment of the refugees takes a full 180˚ turn. Scenes of Austrians clapping and welcoming refugees stand in stark contrast to the scenes from Budapest. Austria is the first “destination” nation along this route. 
  • Munich (Germany)
    Most of the time in the trip will be spent in Germany and Sweden, where the government and the people have demonstrated remarkable generosity and openness towards the refugees.  
  • Cologne (Germany)
    Different parts of Germany are reacting to the new reality differently. Arson attacks have been taking place as the Nationalists fight back against the liberal openness of the left. 
  • Berlin (Germany)
    One of the common theories behind Germany’s acceptance of so many refugees is their low birth rate. How this wave of migration integrates into Germany’s economy and way of life is a constant subtext throughout the conversation. 
  • Copenhagen (Denmark)
    One of the few North and Western European nations that has demonstrated an unwillingness to accept refugees and ease their journey north to Sweden, another destnation. 
  • Oslo (Norway)
    Another, less commonly traveled route goes through Russia, Finland, and into Norway. Given the country’s liberal leaning and its acceptance of refugees, Norway is one of the top destinations. 
  • Stockholm (Sweden)
    Sweden has had a history of acceptance of migration, and that reputation has lifted it to become one of the top destinations for the refugees. I have a lot of family in Stockholm. A lot of long-form stories will come from this stop.
We’ll be traveling in a combination of Air and Train travel, but these driving directions give a sense of the path we’ll follow.
We’ll be traveling in a combination of Air and Train travel, but these driving directions give a sense of the path we’ll follow.

I’ll be sharing more information as the trip gets closer, but for now, if you live in one of the aforementioned countries and would like to help either by providing accommodations or helping out, please reach out. If you know people who are impacted by the flow of refugees, also please reach out. Your support is very much appreciated.

About Us

Majd Taby 

My educational background is very techincal. I studied Computer Science at the University of Michigan, where my family and I first immigrated in 2003. Moving to Silicon Valley after graduating, I worked as an engineer and designer at Apple, Facebook, and Instagram. Most recently, I started a company to build tools for photographers. Our first product, Darkroom, was named the best app of February by the App Store editors. Over time, my passion for photography and storytelling has grown, and that passion is what drove the idea behind this project.

Sara Kerens

I’m a photographer from New York City enamored with the human character, watching some people enjoy life and life assail others. I want to capture all the thousands of stories of comedy and tragedy. I’ve been shooting professionally for over a decade, specializing in editorial, fashion, and documentary work. I have a passion for meaningful, honest, and personal storytelling. I truly enjoy capturing genuine expression, and aim to document the emotion and situation of the the people we meet.

Risks and challenges

The situation in Europe is changing day-by-day. By the time we land and make our trip, our ability to maneuver and meet the refugees may be hampered by the situation on the ground.

Otherwise, budget and resource management is another risk factor. Given the length and scope of this trip, we need to be able to stay agile and react to the circumstances as they come up.

From a creative perspective, we have some safe sources to get stories from, but this project really reaches its full potential when we go deep into the story and meet people where they are, and where the story is happening. There are unknown challenges and risks there regarding our ability to travel, and our ability to find, reach, and interact with the refugees in a productive way. We'll do our best, and we'll keep you posted as we go.

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Funding period

- (21 days)