Don't miss the latest stories
Heart Wrenching Portraits Of Refugees With Their Most Precious Belonging
By Yoon Sann Wong, 29 Aug 2016
Ahmet, 23 – fled from Eritrea, 2013.
I got on board of a ship in Libya which had to bring us to Italy. I couldn’t take anything with me except the clothes I was wearing and a tiny little piece of paper with the phone number of my family on it.They told me to contact them soon after my arriving in Italy. About half way en route to Italy the ship overturned. It was already very old. My clothes were soaking with seawater and were getting heavy so I had to take them off. They disappeared in the sea. With them the piece of paper with the phone number. I survived together with about 200 others. Over 250 have drowned. Months after my escape from Eritrea I found someone in Switzerland who could contact my family. They thought I didn’t survive the crossing by ship. The piece of paper with their number was the most important thing that I owned.
Commercial portrait photographer Gabriel Hill harnesses the power of portraiture to communicate and share the lives of refugees in his powerful, ongoing photo series ‘ImPORTRAITS’.
The subjects in these images had been forced to flee their homes in search of safety and a better life, with little or nothing on them–save the clothes on their backs.
“My studio is right next to a building where refugees live and everyday when I go to work I see them and how they live,” Hill explained to PetaPixel.
“I always found it weird to be working everyday with people who own more than most of the people and, on the other hand, I see the refugees who own almost nothing. This contrast was quite interesting but also very sad.”
Moved by the determination and courage of these individuals, Hill decided to help raise awareness about the refugee crises. He invited these individuals to his studio where he photographed them with their most valuable possession–often the only item they managed to escape with and in some cases, this equated to no material belonging at all.
View some of the portraits accompanied with each subject’s story below. To browse through more in this photo series, visit Hill’s website.
Stay updated on this photographer’s work via Facebook or Instagram account ‘gabrielhillphoto’.
Farhad, 27 – fled from Afghanistan, 2007.
I had packed some things from home but the smugglers told us to throw everything away. I didn’t have the heart to toss out the photo of my mother, so I hid it under my clothes. I haven’t seen my mother since I left, so this picture of her is very important to me.
Sejla, 33 – fled from Bosnia, 1992.
When I was a child, my father would often travel to Africa for work. One time when I was three, I had asked him to bring me back a real life monkey, but he brought me a stuffed bunny he had bought for me during a transit at Zurich Airport.
I took that bunny everywhere. When the war began, everything went so fast I could neither understand what was going on nor think about what I wanted to take with me when we fled. That’s how I forgot my bunny when we left. My dad stayed behind, and I wrote him so many letters saying things like: “Did you find my bunny? I miss you!”
I can’t describe how I felt when I saw my father again three years later, in 1995. My whole body was trembling when I saw his face at the Airport in Zurich – and saw that he was holding my bunny.
Marie-Therese, 62 – fled from DR Congo, 2008.
I had to leave my home from one second to the other. Unfortunately, there was no time to take anything with me.
Rohulla, 24 – fled from Afghanistan, 2010.
Five years ago I fled Afghanistan. When I left, I couldn’t take anything with me except the clothes I was wearing. I was very little when my father was killed, so I hardy have any memories of him. He always wore a golden necklace and after he died, my mother gave it to me.
I came to Switzerland by myself and this necklace is everything I have from my family and my homeland. It means the world to me – it makes me feel like I’m not alone, like my father is always with me.
Mahmoud, 20 – fled from Lebanon, 2014.
Originally I’m Palestinian but I fled from Lebanon. A few years ago I converted from Islam to Christianity and a priest gave me this Bible. During my journey, a boat I was on was in trouble, and our fixer ordered us to throw all our stuff overboard. Somehow I managed to hide my bible. It’s my most treasured possession and gives me strength in hard times. It’s been soaked with seawater and it’s quite dirty, but I wouldn’t want a new one.
Here in Switzerland I live in an asylum with predominantly Muslims – my family are the only ones who know I converted. That’s why I can’t show my face – I’m living a double life.
[via PetaPixel, images by Gabriel Hill and featured with permission]
More related news
Also check out these recent news