World Refugee Day – Lives Displaced
By Reuters Photographers
June 20 marks World Refugee Day, an occasion that draws attention to those who have been displaced around the globe. The UN reports that by the end of 2011 some 43.3 million people were displaced by conflict and persecution, and an estimated up to 12 million people were thought to be stateless.
In the run-up to June 20, Reuters photographers in various countries photographed someone who has at some point fled their home, from a Syrian family who escaped to Jordan, to a man who survived the Rwandan genocide and is now about to start his second Master’s degree in the United States.
Photographer Andreea Campeanu, in South Sudan
Maymona, 28, is from Sudan’s Nuba Mountains in South Kordofan state. The state remained part of Sudan after the secession of the South three years ago, and as conflict simmers along the contentious border it has been the scene of bombings and fierce clashes between rebels and the Sudanese military.
Maymona fled the restive area for Juba, the capital of South Sudan. She now lives there with other people from her home region including relatives and their children.
She has three children of her own but they are all in school in Kenya and their father is still in Nuba, where he remarried. His second wife now lives in Juba, not far from Maymona.
Maymona is studying Education at university, and is in her second year.
Photographers Christian Hartmann and Pascal Rossignol, in France
Rahman Jan Safi, 24, fled his home country Afghanistan in 2007 and started his long journey through Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Greece, and Italy before finally arriving in France and making his way to Calais.
Initially, Safi lived with other refugees in a migrant camp known as the “Jungle” but now he has gained a French residency permit and works for an association known as the “Auberge des Migrants”.
The organization helps feed and clothe migrants who are in Calais and who, for the most part, hope to make it across the Channel to England.
“Helping migrants today is my real motivation. If I don’t do it, who else will?” Safi said.
The young man also takes French lessons and is a passionate long-distance runner, completing his first marathon in 2 hours and 50 minutes. While others may be keen to get to Britain he says he likes living in France because of “the equality and liberty.”
Photographer Juan Medina, in Spain
Alain Diabanza, 35, was born in Kinshasa, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Between 1998 and 2003, the country was torn apart by a bloody regional conflict in which armies and rebel factions clashed with one another and struggled for control over the DRC’s vast natural resources.
Diabanza, a French teacher, talked to his students about the political situation. After the school received threats he fled, first heading to Angola where he lived for two years and then to Senegal and Morocco.
From Morocco, Diabanza and a group of others succeeded in swimming over the heavily guarded border that divides the country from the Spanish enclave of Ceuta. The migrants were apprehended by the Spanish Civil guard, and Diabanza applied for asylum. However, he was not granted refugee status by the Spanish government, and for some time remained in legal limbo.
Now Diabanza lives in Malaga, where he works as a French teacher. He is in a relationship with Paula, a social worker for an NGO, the Spanish Commission for Refugee Aid (CEAR). He gives language classes to immigrants as a volunteer for the organization, and he and Paula are expecting a baby.
On February 6 this year, over a dozen African migrants died while trying to wade and swim to Ceuta, as Diabanza did almost a decade ago.
“That could have happened to me too,” said Diabanza, recalling the event. “There is no difference between them and me, just that for me it was in 2005 and for them it was 2014.”
Photographer Lucy Nicholson, in California, United States
Patrick Manyika, 33, was born in a Ugandan refugee camp after his Tutsi family fled Rwanda.
In 1983, fighting in Uganda forced them to go back to Rwanda, where they lived in a national park for several years, until the government began sending other displaced people back to Uganda once more. Rather than return, Manyika and his family managed to escape to the Rwandan capital Kigali where they hid their Tutsi identities so that he, his brother and sister could go to school.
“I have been threatened a lot of times,” Manyika recalled. “I would be coming from school. People look at you and they call you ‘snake Tutsi’ and they would throw stones at us, and my sister and I would run faster,” he said.
The situation descended into genocide in 1994, when Hutu extremists embarked on a three-month killing spree, slaughtering 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus.
Many of his friends and relatives were butchered, but Manyika sheltered in a UN-controlled soccer stadium and lived through it.
After doing charity work and teaching himself various languages, in 2009 Manyika had the opportunity to leave Rwanda and pursue his education in the United States.
He is now working on a summer internship at the Environmental Science Research Institute (Esri) before starting his second master’s degree in Geographic Information Systems at Redlands University in Southern California.
“I have come a long way, and I have been blessed because, part of it, I was lucky, also part of it was a little strategic,” he said.
Photographer Muhammad Hamed, in Jordan
Mohammed al Hassan, 32, his wife and their four children are from Homs, the Syrian city that has been the scene of fierce battles in the country’s grinding civil war.
Al Hassan said that their neighborhood, Karm Zaiton, was a peaceful place where communities lived together until the revolution began. Then came arrests, abductions and shootings.
“I felt it became too risky for me and my family and my children. If they go to school, I felt they were threatened. It was dangerous to leave the house, with the possibility of death, murder and arrest at any moment, so at this point I decided to leave,” he said.
Al Hassan, his wife and children now live at al-Hussein Palestinian refugee camp in the Jordanian capital Amman, where they are mostly dependent on humanitarian aid. They hope that one day the conflict in their country will end and they will be able to go back there and live in peace.
Photographer Osman Orsal, in Turkey
Mustafa Abdurrahman, 20, left Syria for Turkey along with his family, fleeing military service.
“I don’t want to kill anyone. I don’t really know who is the enemy. If I didn’t succeed in running away I might kill my friends as a soldier,” he said.
Abdurrahman didn’t bring anything with him out of Syria, he said he just wanted to save his life.
He now feels lucky that he is working for the Syrian national coalition office in Turkey, but he has no idea if he will be able to go back to his home country.
Photographer Mariana Bazo, in Peru
Michael Telleria left his home country of Cuba when he was just 6 years old.
His parents, hoping to escape the government of Fidel Castro, were among some 10,000 Cubans who descended on the Peruvian embassy in Havana in 1980, seeking asylum.
The episode sparked a diplomatic incident, and led Castro to temporarily relax emigration laws. Many Cubans went to the United States, the country Telleria’s family also hoped to reach. However, they never made it further than Peru.
Telleria now lives in the south of Lima in a Cuban neighborhood that has a reputation for being dangerous. His paperwork is out of date, because it was too expensive to renew his refugee documents.
Nonetheless, he scrapes by making a living by selling candies on the bus. He lives with his girlfriend, and has two children from a previous relationship. He hopes that one day they will see Cuba.
Despite having lived most of his life in Peru, Telleria speaks of his Cuban identity with great emotion.
“It’s something that I still want to do… to fulfil this label of being Cuban,” he said.
“In my body, in my veins, in everything that is me, including my words, the Cuban comes out.”
Photographer Soe Zeya Tun, in Myanmar
Sinnuyar Baekon, 25, is among many Rohingya Muslims living in squalid camps in Myanmar after being displaced by religious unrest.
Baekon is from Rakhine state, where her family home was burned down in religious riots that broke out in June 2012. They fled first to another village, then to Dapain camp, where she is still living.
Baekon’s shelter is not in a registered camp and so they don’t qualify to receive food from either the government or from international NGOs. Instead, they have to beg for food from others who live in the official camps. Sometimes they get food from Muslim organizations, but it’s not enough for them, said Baekon.
Baekon’s husband left her before she gave birth to twins, and now she is trying her best to feed them.
“He didn’t let me know before he left,” she said. “Now I don’t have any money or food. After I eat a meal, I have nothing left to eat for a week.”