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What ‘home’ means to refugees explored in new exhibition

‘Home’ can mean anything to any number of people, which is evident in a new exhibition set up by the UK for UNHCR to mark Refugee Week.

June 20, 2022
By Lottie Kilraine
20 June 2022

An online photography exhibition has been launched to explore the meaning of “home” as part of Refugee Week.

The digital gallery, set up by UK for UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency’s national charity partner for the UK, will shine a light on what home means for people who have been forced to flee from war.

The Gallery of the (New) Home exhibition will run as part of this year’s Refugee Week from June 20-26, but will be open for submissions throughout summer.

Khaled, a refugee from Syria, submitted a portrait of himself wearing Al-Arada Al-Shamiya – Syrian traditional clothing.
Khaled, a refugee from Syria, submitted a portrait of himself wearing Al-Arada Al-Shamiya – Syrian traditional clothing. (UK for UNHCR/PA)

Photographs have already been submitted by a variety of people, including refugees, with images ranging from family members, to a beloved childhood toy or photographs of parents’ cooking.

Emma Cherniavsky, chief executive, UK for UNHCR: “Growing up in a family where we moved and travelled a lot, Owly was my companion when I was overwhelmed or homesick, and in the decades since he has been at my side in every new place I have lived in, whether that’s for a day, a month, a year or 10. He reminds me that from a young age I have always found my way thanks to the wisdom and kindness of others, and that is what home is for me – not a particular place, but the feeling of becoming part of a new community through shared experiences, overcoming adversity together and building friendships that can last a lifetime.” (Courtesy of UK for UNHCR)

Eid, a refugee from Damascus in Syria, submitted a portrait of himself sat in a projection of water because he feels most at home when swimming despite having a traumatic experience during his journey to the UK.

He said: “When I first approached the photographer David Emery about taking an image of me for this project, we talked about how water was where I felt most at home. This was in spite of the fact that during my journey from Syria to the UK I was stranded in the sea for four hours after the boat I was in capsized.

“For me, the photograph represents how I have managed to turn my fear of water into a strength, by training as a swimmer since my arrival in the UK. The reflections represent the trauma of my journey from Syria but also the sense of positivity and hope I feel for a better future in the UK.”

Eid, a refugee from Syria, said his submission represents how he has managed to turn his fear of water into a strength.
Eid, a refugee from Syria, said his submission represents how he has managed to turn his fear of water into a strength. (UK for UNHCR/PA)

Meanwhile, 20-year-old student and refugee Haya chose to photograph a jasmine flower because it is the national flower of Syria and reminds her of her home country.

“Anyone who visits Damascus will notice how this particular flower is found everywhere in the city,” Haya said.

“The smell literally makes one fall in love with the city. Most of the locals will tell you that the jasmine flower is what they love the most about the place.“There are so many potential photos I could have sent, I found it hard to choose just one because everything reminds me of Syria for example, the sea, the sky, the water, and family.”

Haya (refugee from Syria): “The jasmine flower in Damascus has its unique significance. Anyone who visits Damascus will notice how this particular flower is found everywhere in the city. The smell literally makes one fall in love with the city. Most of the locals will tell you that the jasmine flower is what they love the most about the place.”

There are plans to curate a physical version of the exhibition later this year.

“The beauty and variety of images in the Gallery are incredibly inspiring and manage to convey both unique, deeply personal meanings of ‘home’ and a unifying sense of home as a place of safety and comfort,” said Emma Cherniavsky, chief executive of UK for UNHCR.

“We hope the Gallery of the (New) Home encourages people to think about home in a new and engaging way, and consider what it takes to find a new home after being forced to flee.

“Everyone has the right to seek safety, but reaching that safe space is only the start.”

Actor and UNHCR high-profile supporter Theo James: “Home is a right to safety, an ability to protect your family and the freedom to occasionally squidge those tiny toes.”
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