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Syrian refugees: the lives of others

Posted by Sam Tarling Freelance photographer

4th Oct 2013

Freelance photographer Sam Tarling has been covering the story of the Syrian refugee crisis for over two years and is currently on assignment with Oxfam in Lebanon. These are his personal thoughts - and images - of the people and situations he has encountered this week.

One of the most humbling experiences when working with Syria's refugees is their unfailing hospitality. Despite the fact that these families struggle to feed themselves they insist on sharing a strong coffee or sweet tea with visitors.

Many of the 2.1 million refugees who have fled the conflict in Syria have done so with little more than the clothes on their backs and whatever else they could carry. This means that the children, who make up around half of the Syrian refugee population, have few toys to play with. There may not be an X-Box or an iPad in sight, but at this informal refugee settlement in northern Lebanon, Aya, 8, from Homs, still manages to have fun with a simple bottle of soapy water.

When working as a photographer with refugee communities I'm always worried that my presence might disturb those whose lives i'm trying to capture. I know that it's always for the greater good - that by sharing peoples stories we can raise money to make things better for people in similar situations - but for once it was nice to be able to make a direct difference: 14-year old Bashour has been living in this informal refugee settlement in northern Lebanon for two years, and never once had he cleaned the toilets (provided by Oxfam and partner agency JAK). After being 'volunteered' by his friends and given a quick lesson on how to do it by an Oxfam aid worker, Bashour cleaned his first ever latrine. Hopefully now he'll be able to use this new skill to help out around the camp.

Mohammad (name changed), a green fingered young refugee who has fostered a thriving garden at the informal settlement in which he now lives in north Lebanon, has been helping Oxfam make a film about his work.


Next time you're grumbling about stacking the dishwasher, spare a though for Emm Ammar, 38, from Homs in Syria, who here manages a smile as she washes by hand, in cold water, dishes for her seven children. Her sink is also the floor of her kitchen, which is also the floor of her bathroom. She and the rest of her family all sleep in the one other 'room' of the shack in which they live at an informal refugee settlement in Northern Lebanon.

Life can be pretty miserable for refugees who have fled the conflict in Syria. But the 27 families who live in this informal settlement in northern Lebanon find a little happiness in their resident kitten, which one family managed to bring along with them from Homs, one of the worst hit cities in Syria. Here Mohamad (name changed), 11, poses for a portrait with his furry friend.

They say necessity is the mother of invention. Here, a home-made stove heats up in what counts as the kitchen in an abandoned shop that is now home to two families - a single room for 9 people. The coiled wire heats up a ceramic block, and after around 2 hours the block is hot enough to cook on. It's not much but with no money for gas it's the best these refugees can hope for.

Before he fled his home in Hamaa, Syria, Abdul Min Am Min Ahmed would probably, like most of us, have thrown out the neck of any chicken he was cooking. The tough, bony part of the bird offers little meat, if any. Here he's cleaning a whole bag of them so that he might provide food for his family, outside of the dilapidated abandoned shopping centre in which he now lives in northern Lebanon.

Donate to Oxfam's Syria Crisis Appeal


Blog post written by Sam Tarling

Freelance photographer

More by Sam Tarling