“Life From My Lens - Syrian Refugee Women’s Perspectives in Istanbul”

The HAYAT Syrian Refugee Women’s Collective led by 15 ambitious and inspiring Syrian refugee women from diverse socio-cultural backgrounds living in Istanbul, Turkey. With support from ARDI, the HAYAT Collective members led a photography contest activity to share their own unique experiences and perspective of refugee life in Istanbul through photographs captured by themselves in line with four key prompts. This activity is one component of a larger project wherein ARDI is supporting the HAYAT Syrian Refugee Women’s Collective to build their capacities, provide opportunities to design and lead important initiatives at the community level and lead either socially impactful activities aimed at amplifying and strengthening Syrian refugee women’s voices, experiences, and leadership abilities.

The photography contest provided the HAYAT Collective members with the opportunity to contribute meaningfully to the current narrative around the experiences of Syrian refugees building new lives in Turkey, which is often dominated by the Turkish community or male journalists instead of equitably amplifying Syrian refugee women’s own perspectives and vantage points. This activity provided the HAYAT Collective members with the chance to share life through their own lenses in ways they desire to be seen and represented and focused on subjects that they feel are important to convey to the local and international community.

At the conclusion of the photography activity, a contest among the HAYAT Collective members took place to identify the most meaningful pictures from each prompt category. ARDI shares the winning pictures here within our “HAYAT Digitital Gallary” so that Syrian refugee women’s perspectives can be seen, appreciated, and perhaps spark conversation on the joys and challenges faced by refugees in Istanbul.

To learn more about the HAYAT Syrian Refugee Women’s Collective, please visit their Facebook page.

Prompt 1: “What does it mean to be a refugee in Istanbul?”

Picture title: Child Labor

Picture description: In these pictures, we highlight the asylum life in Istanbul, where the children who were forced by the asylum to work and support their families in order to help them live in Istanbul.

Photographer name: Roaa Albeesh

Picture Title: A Refugee in Istanbul Faces Constraints and an Unknown Future
Picture description:  Living in a large city like Istanbul is more difficult for women, which increases the challenges of work, integration, and helping the husband to establish a family in decent living conditions.

Syrian women, like all segments of the Syrian society in Turkey, suffer from difficult job opportunities and the burdens of taking care of a family at the same time, while some Turkish laws limit freedom of movement and other laws lack correct implementation –  especially labor and security laws.
In this picture, we can see a Syrian woman holding an iron fence for a garden separating her from the civil gathering, a wasteland that suggests the difficulty of the road to reach her goals.

Photographer name: Maria Akedey

Picture title: From Zero

Picture description: In asylum, your life begins from Zero, until if you are seventy years old, you will learn the alphabet of the host country, you will turn a whole life, and start over

Photographer name: Ghossoun Abu Aldahab

Picture title: Thorny Foreignness

Picture description: “Thorny Foreignness” depits a sense of war. Because of the war, we became afraid to approach anyone until we have become like a cactus plant to each other and we fear one another.

Photographer name: Israa Kattash

Prompt 2: “What does violence or security mean in refugee communities?”

Picture title: Inner Peace

Picture description: I feel safe and I have inner peace when I sit in the Fateh Mosque because it reminds me of the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, which we used to go to as a family whenever we felt stress.

Photographer name: Salina Nasra

Picture title: Kimlik

Picture description: This is a photo of a Syrian refugee ID, which is unfortunately, is no more than a personal identification document. This document gives refugees the right to live in Turkey and to prove his/her identity in the formal organizations and hospitals. However, it is very limited in use, because it is not valid in banks (even in Turkey), and doesn’t give refugees the right to move between states in Turkey.
Refugees who have this document as their ID need to also take permission from the Turkish Government to move from state to state. Even this permission is not easy to obtain this leads refugees to become exposed to a lot of fraud by the brokers who claim to help refugees with this process.
This leads to a decrease in the refugee’s sense of safety because even in the country where they sought refuge, we are still bound by many restrictions.

Photographer name: Roaa Albeesh

Picture title: Flowers in the Wind

Picture description: We were scattered like frightened roses on the sidewalks of alienation, without security and without protection from the international community

Photographer name: Israa Kattash

Picture title: Please Dont Fight Me: I Am a Refugee, But I Am Not Your Enemy

Picture description: When you are a refugee, you do not have the right to decide which country you will relocate to, therefore a new phase of conflicts begins. Perhaps not finding a place to sleep, eat, and drink, but finding the right to practice humanity is a harder challenge. Every day we see painful images of quarrels that have broken out between a refugee in a defensive position and another that had a false idea about the refugee.  They say “Who are you to express your opinion about  my country?” Painful images of quarrels that had consequences

Photographer name: Manal Hawa

Prompt 3: “What does integration feel like for Syrians in Istanbul?”

Picture title: Together We Defy the Challenges

Picture description: Success is not measured by your position, it is measured by the difficulties one has overcome.

Photographer name: Salina Nasra

Picture title: Tired By the Challenges of Integration

Picture description: I stand exhausted, but resisting my grief until I can continue to try to integrate – but I fail.

Photographer name: Israa Kattash

Prompt 4: “What can a photo portray about the unique experiences of Syrian refugees that words cannot?”

Picture title: Education is a Passport to a Bright Future

Picture description: Life is full of stones, so do not stumble upon them. Instead,  collect them and build a ladder with them so you can ascend this ladder towards success. This is what my daughter did, which is something I am very proud of.

Photographer name: Salina Nasra

Picture title: The Melody of Life

Picture description: It was a unique experience when my unveiled daughter and her veiled friend were both selected to join the music band at school to celebrate Turkish Republic Day. Knowing that we live in a secular country, even within the most strict areas in Istanbul, is a unique experience.

Photographer name: Reema Alkady

Picture title: Less Than Legal

Picture description: This image expresses the importance of following the laws completely, even in the country of asylum – whether by extracting the identity of temporary protection or legal marriage in Turkish courts. By following the law, the problems faced by a pregnant woman entering hospitals, birth procedures, registering the child in the Population Department, and entering schools in a legal manner are more easily alleviated.

Photographer name: Kinana Tarablsi

Note: all pictures have been shared by ARDI with permission from the photographer. All rights reserved by the individual photographers. Please contact ARDI to request support in contacting the photographers for permission to share or use this media content in any way.