The meagre possessions that a handful of refugees managed to gather before fleeing for their lives has been laid bare in a striking series of photographs.
As individuals and families abruptly abandon life as they know it, they are forced to choose between what means most to them and what will serve them best on what is typically a perilous journey.
A mother, a child, a teenager, a pharmacist, an artist and a family of 31 were those asked to share the contents of their bags for the powerful project by the International Rescue Committee (IRC). [Their last names have been omitted to protect their privacy.]
A child. Name: Omran. Age: 6. From: Damascus, Syria
Omran is on his way to Germany to live with relatives. His bag contains:
- 1 pair of pants, 1 shirt
- A syringe for emergencies
- Marshmallows and sweet cream (Omran’s favorite snacks)
- Soap, toothbrush and toothpaste
Entitled ‘What’s in my bag? What refugees bring when they run for their lives’, the series tells stories of the past and reveals their hopes for the future.
Mundane items such as baby food, shampoo and a sandwich bag of marshmallows suddenly take on a special significance given the life or death circumstances.
A mother. Name: Aboessa. Age: 20. From: Damascus, Syria
Aboessa crossed the border to Turkey with her husband and 10-month-old daughter before boarding a raft bound for Europe, eventually reaching Greece. Her bag contains:
- Hat for the baby
- An assortment of medication, a bottle of sterile water, and a jar of baby food
- A small supply of napkins for diaper changes
- A hat and a pair of socks for the baby
- Assortment of pain relievers, sunscreen and sunburn ointment, toothpaste
- Personal documents (including the baby’s vaccination history)
- Wallet (with photo ID and money)
- Cell phone charger
- Yellow headband
The IRC is a humanitarian aid charity, which helps people whose lives and livelihoods have been shattered by conflict and disaster.
It points out: “Refugees travel light, for their trek is as dangerous as it is arduous. They are detained, shot at, hungry. Smugglers routinely exploit them, promising safety for a price, only to squeeze them like sardines into tiny boats.
A teenager. Name: Iqbal. Age: 17. From: Kunduz, Afghanistan
Iqbal fled to Iran then travelled by foot to Turkey. He is now in Lesbos, uncertain of where to go next. His bag contains:
- 1 pair of pants, 1 shirt, 1 pair of shoes and 1 pair of socks
- Shampoo and hair gel, toothbrush and toothpaste, face whitening cream
- Comb, nail clipper
- 100 U.S. dollars
- 130 Turkish liras
- Smart phone and back-up cell phone
- SIM cards for Afghanistan, Iran and Turkey
"Most have no option but to shed whatever meager belongings they may have salvaged from their journeys. Those allowed to bring extra baggage aboard often toss it overboard, frantically dumping extra weight as the leaky boats take on water.”
Global Communications Officer Juliette Delay, who led the project, told Huffington Post UK: "We put this together after the International Rescue Committee first deployed in Greece to help with the influx of refugees arriving on Lesbos.
"We were inspired by the the typically product-centric features that you see in many women's magazines, and thought that might be a way to tell this story to a broader audience, in outlets that don't normally run these types of subjects.
"It is always tough to get people to relate to a crisis when numbers are thrown around as that tends to dehumanize the core of the issue.
A pharmacist. Name: Anonymous. Age: 34. From: Syria
This man fled with his family to Turkey where he met a smuggler who arranged his trip to Europe. His boat to Greece capsized and he was forced to tread water until he was rescued. His bag contains:
- Money (wrapped to protect it from water)
- Old phone (wet and unusable) and new smart phone
- Phone chargers and headphones (plus extra battery charger)
- 16GB flash drive (containing family photos)
"These are people, just like you and me, who are fleeing barrel bombs and conflicts with no end in sight. We wanted people to think, 'what would I bring if I had to flee?' We are overwhelmed by the attention that this project has received in the past few days; the project has been picked up by media across the globe and scholars are even having anthropological debates about it on Twitter.
"We have seen an outpouring of people who really do care, but wouldn't have known they did otherwise. You can dismiss a number, but you can't ignore these stories."
An artist. Name: Nour. Age: 20. From: Syria
Guitar player and painter Nour brought these items when he fled to Turkey:
- Small bag of personal documents
- A rosary (gift from his friend; Nour doesn’t let it touch the floor)
- A watch (from his girlfriend; it broke during the journey)
- Syrian flag, Palestinian charm, silver and wooden bracelets (gifts from friends)
- Guitar picks (one also a gift from a friend)
- Cell phone and Syrian SIM card
- Photo ID
You can donate to the IRC's work here.
A family of 31. From: Aleppo, Syria
Seven women, four men and 20 children have just one bag between them after their boat began to sink on the journey from Turkey to Greece. It contains:
- 1 shirt, 1 pair of jeans,
- 1 pair of shoes
- 1 diaper, 2 small cartons of milk and some biscuits
- Personal documents and money
- Sanitary pads
- A comb
Name: Hassan. Age: 25. From: Syria
'This is all I have'