Istanbul, 20 June 2022 – UNHCR Türkiye marked World Refugee Day with a photography exhibition, ‘Life Through My Eyes’, originating from a series of photography workshops where Turkish and refugee children living in Türkiye’s southeastern province, Mardin, came together to reflect the environment they live in through their own lenses.
By the end of 2021, those displaced by war, violence, persecution, and human rights abuses stood at 89.3 million, up 8 per cent on a year earlier and well over double the figure of 10 years ago. It includes 27.1 million refugees and asylum seekers as well as the 53.2 million people displaced inside their borders by conflict. Since then, the Russian invasion of Ukraine – causing the fastest and one of the largest forced displacement crises since World War II – and other emergencies, from Africa to Afghanistan and beyond, pushed the figure over the dramatic milestone of 100 million. Each year, World Refugee Day is marked by a variety of events in many countries around the globe to help focus global attention on the plight of those fleeing conflict.
The opening of the exhibition, hosted by UNHCR Türkiye Representative Philippe Leclerc at Atatürk Cultural Centre in Istanbul, was attended by some 150 participants, including government representatives, civil society members, foreign mission representatives, donors, UNHCR staff, members of the media, refugees and host community members.
UNHCR Türkiye Representative Philippe Leclerc, in his speech, said: “The photographs in this exhibition portray children’s creativity, joy and beauty- conveying our primary goal of enabling children to live their lives as children. It’s amazing to see what they are able to capture, and so exciting to see the world through their eyes. This remarkable initiative is very timely, as conflicts uproot people at an unprecedented pace. Wherever they come from, people forced to flee should be welcomed. What remains universal is the right to seek safety. Borders should remain open for them. They did not choose this conflict. They did not choose their plight. They need our help and our support today as much as ever, especially in being able to live with their families, including their grandparents and siblings, as separation can often occur in times of conflict.
Children are particularly affected during displacement crises, especially if their displacement drags on for many years. Many refugee situations around the world have become protracted, relegating more and more children born to refugee parents to spend their entire childhood, and possibly their whole lives, outside their country of origin.
“Since 2014, Türkiye has been hosting the world’s largest refugee population, with some 4 million refugees and asylum-seekers benefiting from a sound legislative framework, almost half of whom are children that have needs, dreams and hopes for a future,” said Leclerc.
Through the ‘Mobile Darkroom Photography Project’ carried out by UNHCR Türkiye and Sirkhane Darkroom, under the Art Anywhere Association, 270 Turkish, Syrian and Iraqi children between the ages of 7-17 were given fundamental technical training on analogue photography in the workshops in the province of Mardin. They were also informed about children’s rights, ecological awareness and gender equality through games and had the opportunity to reflect on their impressions and feelings on these subjects. Focusing on commonalities, the children were able to learn important concepts and produce remarkable photos, all while working hand in hand. The workshop enabled the children, regardless of nationality, to learn how to live together, become active learners and create with one another.
“Something like this has never happened in our village before. I love having photography in my village, I learned how to take photos and I am sharing this with all my friends!” said 9 -year-old Harun, one of the participants of the workshop.
During the project, Turkish and refugee children, who added their imagination and a piece of their lives to every frame they took, worked together in harmony, as well as produced and exchanged ideas. They were able to play and create together. While giving visitors the chance to feel different emotions and thoughts, they also had the opportunity to show their abstract and concrete worlds with their photographs full of hope.
Once they are out of harm’s way, people fleeing war or persecution need opportunities to heal, learn, work and thrive – in line with the Refugee Convention and the Global Compact on Refugees. While policies that have been implemented for so many refugees in Türkiye continue to be an example to guide policies of other countries, protecting people forced to flee is a collective global responsibility. Countries and communities that receive and host large numbers of refugees including Türkiye and its people need steadfast support and solidarity from the international community.