//photos © Moises Saman/Magnum Photos//
Eight years ago Riverbend escaped from Iraq with her family, searching safety in Syria. Upon her arrival to Syria she wrote:
“Syria is a beautiful country – at least I think it is. I say ‘I think’ because while I perceive it to be beautiful, I sometimes wonder if I mistake safety, security and normalcy for ‘beauty’. In so many ways, Damascus is like Baghdad before the war – bustling streets, occasional traffic jams, markets seemingly always full of shoppers… And in so many ways it’s different.
The buildings are higher, the streets are generally narrower and there’s a mountain, Qasiyoun, that looms in the distance. The mountain distracts me, as it does many Iraqis- especially those from Baghdad. Northern Iraq is full of mountains, but the rest of Iraq is quite flat. At night, Qasiyoun blends into the black sky and the only indication of its presence is a multitude of little, glimmering spots of light- houses and restaurants built right up there on the mountain. Every time I take a picture, I try to work Qasiyoun into it- I try to position the person so that Qasiyoun is in the background.”
“It is estimated that there are at least 1.5 million Iraqis in Syria today. I believe it. Walking down the streets of Damascus, you can hear the Iraqi accent everywhere. There are areas like Geramana and Qudsiya that are packed full of Iraqi refugees. Syrians are few and far between in these areas. Even the public schools in the areas are full of Iraqi children. A cousin of mine is now attending a school in Qudsiya and his class is composed of 26 Iraqi children, and 5 Syrian children. It’s beyond belief sometimes. Most of the families have nothing to live on beyond their savings which are quickly being depleted with rent and the costs of living.”
That was eight years ago. Last couple of years Iraq and Syria have been closer than ever, united under the merciless rhythm of war drums. These charts show the heartbeats of those countries now.
Eight years ago, Riverbend wrote: “The first minutes after passing the border were overwhelming. Overwhelming relief and overwhelming sadness… How is it that only a stretch of several kilometers and maybe twenty minutes, so firmly segregates life from death? How is it that a border no one can see or touch stands between car bombs, militias, death squads and… peace, safety? It’s difficult to believe- even now. I sit here and write this and wonder why I can’t hear the explosions.
I wonder at how the windows don’t rattle as the planes pass overhead. I’m trying to rid myself of the expectation that armed people in black will break through the door and into our lives. I’m trying to let my eyes grow accustomed to streets free of road blocks, hummers and pictures of Muqtada and the rest… How is it that all of this lies a short car ride away?”
Today, we see refugees from Iraq and Syria crossing endless amounts of borders, risking their lives, traveling across the sea on lousy rafts and so-called boats, walking for weeks and months – and still not managing to find a safe place to lay their head and rest. We see that many of them, for a long time, are not and will not be able to allow themselves to dream, allow themselves to worry about the little moments – like going to work on monday or what to cook for dinner.
There’s no more safety a short car ride away. Baghdad is still burning, Syria is on fire too. And in Jordan and Turkey the word is out – “capacities for refugees full”. After Iraq to Syria and Syria to Iraq, where to next? Who will stop all Baghdads from burning and who will provide the shelter from fire in the meantime?