Syria: Lives in limbo

Pablo Tosco began documenting the lives of war-weary Syrians in 2013 in Aleppo when he was working as an independent photographer. Now with Oxfam, he has been following Syrian refugees on their exhausting journey in search of safety, where some stops last years and others just hours. But no matter the choice families make—to stay put in a camp or risk passage to Europe—they have one longing in common: a better life.

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“Nothing compares to my country,” says Syrian refugee Fatima Haslan. “As soon as the war ends, we will go back.”

Home is the hope that many of Syria’s 4.8 million refugees cling to, even after five years of brutal fighting has obliterated both the people and places they once loved. But for now, the reality refugees face is stubbornly, interminably nothing like home. It’s limbo, endured for years in leaky tents and overcrowded rooms, with spiraling debt and few options to work, in countries like Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey that are straining under the weight of hosting so many.

Exhausted by the uncertainty and hardship, many Syrians, joining others escaping persecution, poverty, and conflict in a host of countries, have decided to seek security far from home. They have been making the arduous journey across the Mediterranean to Greece and deeper into Europe. But peril marks each step of the way, from the dangerously crowded and flimsy boats that carry families over the sea to the violence and extortion they face at the hands of smugglers and security forces. And by March, increased restrictions on their migration and difficult asylum procedures in Europe had left tens of thousands of people stranded.

“Purgatory.” That’s the word photographer Pablo Tosco uses to describe the scene at the border between Macedonia and Greece when he visited there. “This is a situation of total indignity. Smeared all the way to the neck, living in tents, enduring cold and rain, without food, with very little assistance from European governments.”

Nevertheless, at the start of spring more than 1,000 people a day—at least half of them from Syria—were landing on the shores of Greece, even as the country had begun transforming its reception facilities into detention centers. The move came in response to a deal the European Union (EU) struck with Turkey to stem the flow of people across the sea. The agreement, denounced by Oxfam as a policy of indifference that contradicts the spirit of international law, calls for migrants crossing from Turkey to the Greek Islands to be returned to Turkey, with the EU picking up the cost. In exchange for each Syrian returned, one who is formally registered in Turkey and on the UN’s list as most vulnerable will be resettled in the EU. Turkey is now hosting more than 2.7 million Syrian refugees.

Here is a look at the long, hard road they are on, through the lens of Tosco’s camera.

Hear Pablo Tosco, who was an independent photographer at the time, describe his meeting with Abu.



Hear Pablo Tosco, who was an independent photographer at the time, describe his meeting with Abu.

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Pablo Tosco discusses the photographer’s role

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Additional credits: Julio Espinoza provided the voiceover for Tosco’s story about Abu.

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