On the occasion of World Refugee Day, the photo exhibition “Refugee Voices in Egypt 2014: Exile, Refuge and Resilience”, opened on 25 June-8 July at the Legacy Gallery, at the AUC Tahrir campus.
The exhibition, organised by the Center for Migration and Refugee Studies (CMRS) at the American University in Cairo and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) showcased an array of photos revealing the peculiarities associated with the state of refuge.
“They threw him out of all refuges. They took his young sweetheart and said: You are a refugee.”
– Mahmoud Darwish, On Man
Ahmed, a Sudanese child, playing with a fuel jerry can during his time as a resident in Salloum camp (photo: UNHCR, A. Diab)
Mahmoud Darwish’s “On Man” rings in my ears as my eyes fall onto the display of photos featuring the faces of refugees from different nationalities who fled their homes to escape ugly, inevitable fates.
Put together on the occasion of World Refugee Day, the exhibition is a poignant reminder of the gloomy particularities that weave into the state of refuge. Yet, it concurrently introduces vestiges of hope and unearths instances of victory for the refugee.
Mouammar kept smiling for the camera and playing before going to the playground near the eastern fence of Salloum camp in April 2013 (photo: UNHCR, A. Diab)
Faces of Sudanese, Somali, Eritrean and Syrian refugees adorn the photos resting on the walls of the Legacy Gallery at the AUC Tahrir Campus.
One assemblage of photos shows how life is like at the Salloum camp, while another collection hosts Sudanese refugees from the Nuba Mountains, as they commemorate the war that preceded their fleeing through moments of silence and candle-lighting.
Other photos are inundated with overt manifestations of grief and reveal how Sudanese and Syrian refugees fled their countries of origin, the conditions they sought to escape from and the dreams they sought in Egypt.
In that particular category, photos of Syrian refugees as they recount their experience prior to escaping the Syrian debacle, are intensely raw.
A Syrian refugee child in UNHCR’s Registration Centre in Zamalek, one of over a million who have fled the violence in Syria (photo: UNHCR, N. Abdo)
As they seek resettlement in Egypt, refugees pay visits to the UNHCR registration centre, which are well-documented in the exhibition.
Here, photos show Syrian refugees visiting UNHCR for counselling or registration purposes, or to acquire information about assistance as their children draw pictures in child-friendly spaces.
Other photographs show Nigerian and Sudanese refugees coming in for the purpose of resettlement. The observer can also spot the faces of the workers providing assistance to the refugees at UNHCR in some of the photos.
Yasser, a child from Sudan, plays on a toy horse in the waiting area of UNHCR’s Registration Centre in 6th of October City, Greater Cairo (photo: UNHCR, L. Cecco)
While the photos act as painful reminders of the encounters associated with such a state of refuge, they also hint at the inconceivable ability of these refugees to surmount the challenges they face: women with the sides of their mouths curved upward as they go about their daily business, or as they proudly hold up handicrafts of their creation; kids drawing colourful art pieces and others aspiring to preserve their culture by reciting songs and poems and adorning their hands with intricate henna art.
“My son is still in Libya. I don’t know anything about him,” said Qesma from Darfur, Sudan. Following the conflict which erupted in Libya in 2011 and the ensuing insecurity, she fled into Egypt and spent nearly three years in Salloum camp. In May 2014, following the government’s granting of access to Egyptian territory for the persons (primarily Sudanese) remaining in the camp in order to facilitate access to refugee status determination (RSD) and potential durable solutions, Qesma has found accommodation in Masaken Othman, a new settlement on the edge of Greater Cairo (photo: UNHCR, A. Diab)
In a way, the exhibition becomes a candid amalgamation of the many sides that together weave the day-to-day lives of refugees engaged in the tedious scuffle for hope and stability.
It beautifully transcends the stereotypical image of the refugee, who are often only talked about in the context of victim hood. It seeks to and successfully demystifies this misconception by unearthing the extent of the refugee’s willpower and determination.
Refugees at UNHCR Registration Centre
Refugees at the Salloum camp
Refugees at UNHCR Registration Centre (photos taken by Nourhan Tawfik)