A landscape of disruption
An exodus of unprecedented magnitude, a consequence of regional turmoil, now includes 103 million people living in displacement. That’s nearly four times the Australian population. For many, Türkiye has become a temporary refuge, offering safety to over 400,000 Iraqis and Syrians awaiting resettlement. In February 2023, with Joseph Youhana from Host International, we embarked on a journey across this landscape of disruption and despair, reaching Türkiye, Jordan, and Lebanon, driven by an urgency to document the lives of those often overlooked.
Advocacy through Film
Collaborating with a US film director, our mission was to capture stories that shed light on the often invisible toll of long-term displacement: the loss of dignity, struggles with health, education, and the insidious trap of human trafficking. Beyond the surface of forced migration and destitution lies a disheartening erosion of human dignity. These films serve a dual purpose – fundraising, by sensitising audiences across the globe via social media, and advocacy, by influencing the decisions of key entities like UNHCR, embassies, and immigration offices. Moreover, they promise to provide a lasting historical record for generations to come. Its purpose resonates through its mission – to awaken public consciousness and impel governmental action, illuminating the depths of the ongoing Middle East refugee crisis.
The Human Tapestry of Türkiye
In Türkiye, we found families living in conditions far removed from normalcy. Each household had a unique narrative of struggle, of lives upended, dreams deferred, yet many with an unbroken spirit of resilience.
Among those we met in the Middle East was a 30-year-old woman, bullied at her factory job, shouldering the responsibility of caring for her disabled father, all while nursing a dream of moving to Australia. We also met a family of six who had sought refuge in Türkiye in 2015. Their story was one of profound sorrow and hardship, marked by the loss of four family members over the years. The family’s resilience was tested further as they were faced with multiple health challenges. Sustained solely by charity and church donations, even the family’s healthier adult children found themselves adrift. This was a family whose hope for a future in Australia remained undeterred by multiple rejections, their narratives were reminders, revealing the human toll exacted by conflict and displacement.
Yet each tale, unique in its details, reflected the universal human spirit to survive against all odds.
A Perilous Existence
Our journey took us to Sakarya and Bilecik, where we were introduced to people who had been uprooted multiple times, both within their home countries and beyond. The stark contrast between their past and present lives painted a vivid picture of the upheaval that displacement brings and the personal cost of conflict.
Meeting the Future
On our trip to Istanbul, we visited the local children’s community at a Chaldean church. Despite the adversity they faced, their energy and positivity were infectious and provided a much-needed counterbalance to the heartrending stories we had collected on our journey.
Jordan – Seeking Solutions
The Jordanian leg of our journey provided a different perspective. At the US embassy in Amman, we discussed the role of policy in alleviating the refugee crisis, stressing the power of stories in shaping decisions. Our visit to the Ammon Center provided a glimmer of hope – an initiative that offered women medical assistance, employment training, and trauma counselling, epitomising the power of community in combating adversity.
Lebanon – In search of a brighter future
Upon arriving in Lebanon, we had come across a young Iraqi woman who has found employment as a science teacher at the local community school in Beirut. In spite of the hardships she has experienced, she is determined to look for more opportunities to better her life in search of the freedom and independence of not solely taking donations. Despite her perseverance, many like her face barriers. They are often unaware of overseas resources, such as the “Talent Beyond Boundaries” program in Australia, the USA, and Canada, which could provide them with visas, jobs, and education opportunities.
The Road Ahead
While this trip has ended, our journey to advocate for the forgotten refugees of the Middle East is far from over. The stories we have gathered will form the bedrock of our mission – to provide these resilient individuals with a platform, amplify their voices and ensure they are not forgotten in the grand scheme of world politics. Stay tuned to the release and screening of the film in late 2023 to revive their stories and raise governmental attention to the Middle East refugee crisis.
In our pursuit of change, we are guided by a vision of a more sustainable humanitarian paradigm, one that empowers individuals to reclaim their dignity. As we reflect on our journey, we are reminded that true transformation doesn’t lie only in political solutions but also in a foundational change driven by education. This change, starting with the nurturing of knowledge and independence, is pivotal, particularly for the younger generation. We know that the battle for a brighter future starts in the classroom, giving children the tools to shape their destinies and rebuild their lives. Their stories show us that the most important wins are not just about rules or leaders, but about people’s strength and hope. Their journey to a better life is just starting.