The Crisis That's Still Tearing Families Apart — In Photos

Photo: Katie Salisbury
I sat with four other women at a makeshift table, holding warm mugs of chai in our hands and chatting as though we were longtime girlfriends at a Sunday lunch. Only the setting was Neubau refugee camp in Berlin. We sat inside a bare bones room equipped with a mini-fridge, assorted chairs, and a queen-size bed where a baby girl slept peacefully.

It was the middle of January and I had just embarked on a trip through Germany and Greece with a small group of filmmakers to chronicle the stories of women and girl refugees for She Is Syria, a multimedia documentary project. I didn’t know what to expect tackling such a devastating and urgent issue, or whether anyone would even be willing to talk to us. But over the course of the next two weeks, I was awestruck by the willingness of the Afghan, Kurdish, Iraqi, Palestinian, Iranian, and Syrian women I met to share their experiences.

The stories were shocking, and came thick and fast. Like Faida, a 53-year-old from Syria and mother of two twentysomething boys, who told us about setback after setback on her journey to Europe: She was arrested by police twice, was ripped off, got stuck in border towns when her cash ran out, and then the kicker — she and her son were dumped by smugglers in Denmark instead of Germany.

Sara, 21, traveled alone with her baby daughter to reunite with her husband in Berlin. When she arrived in Germany, she faced yet another hurdle — the government agency wouldn’t allow her to live in the same refugee camp as her husband. In protest, she slept outside the Neubau camp with her child in the middle of winter for an entire week until they finally acquiesced.

These women sacrificed everything in order to do what was necessary to keep their families together and safe. They taught me the true meaning of the word heroine. The following is an attempt to give them their due as mothers, daughters, sisters, wives, and the glue holding it all together.

Editor's note: Some of the subjects photographed either declined to give their names or asked that their names not be shared.
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Photo: Katie Salisbury
Caption: Asima Mohamed, 43, and her 17-year-old daughter, are from Mosul, Iraq. When ISIS destroyed their home in 2009, their family of 10 moved to Kurdistan. But in December 2014, their new home was destroyed once again by ISIS. When this picture was taken, they were in Athens, Greece, waiting for the Netherlands to process their asylum application.
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Photo: Shelley Cheung
“I was happy in my house, in my country. During the war, my house was bombed and completely demolished. It was not a home anymore... What I want for Syria: I want the war to stop, to go back to my country. I hope that God will solve this problem.” — Aveen

Caption: Syrians Aveen, 37, and her daughter Abir, 14, outside the official Moria camp on Lesvos, Greece. Aveen was friendly and open, inviting me to sit down next to the wood-burning stove their group was huddled around. Aveen, her daughter, and her son had just arrived on the island by boat that morning after crossing the Aegean Sea.
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Photo: Katie Salisbury
Caption: Hamida and her husband Mohammadi are refugees from Afghanistan who arrived in Berlin several months ago. They have two children, an 8-year-old boy, and a 3-year-old girl who is very sick. They are currently living at a medical center for refugees, where the doctors are still trying to diagnose their daughter's illness.
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Photo: Katie Salisbury
“I want not to die here. I want to die in my country. Not here — not in Germany. You know, if now [the war] finished, I will go back. Really, even if I don’t have anything.” — Nadia

Caption: Nadia, 37, fled Syria with her mother, who is in poor health, and her younger brother, who would have been conscripted into the Syrian army had he stayed behind.
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Photo: Katie Salisbury
Caption: Syrian children Bayan, 9, left, Abdullah, 8, right, and Reem, 11, back, choreographed a dance routine to Arabic techno inside their tent at Kara Tepe camp on Lesvos.
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Photo: Katie Salisbury
Caption: New arrivals disembark and register on the shores of Lesvos with the help of volunteers.
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Photo: Katie Salisbury
Caption: The Hosseini family traveled from Afghanistan to Lesvos, then on to Germany. Waiting for a train in Greece with five other families, Nilufa, 8, read a paperback book titled, "How to Make a Better Life."
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Photo: Katie Salisbury
Caption: Zahra, a refugee from Iraq, came to Germany alone with her two children, while pregnant with her third baby.
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Photo: Katie Salisbury
"This journey was not easy at all. As a mom, it's very hard. We wanted to turn back for the kids. It was very difficult for them. We climbed the mountain…[and] the smuggler told us an hour and you arrive in Turkey. The trip took seven hours. We were running with our children." — Sabah

Caption: Sabah, 35, a mother of four and elementary school teacher, fled Damascus, Syria, to join her husband in Germany. Sabah preferred not to have her face photographed, but poses here in shadow with several other mothers and their children by their tent at Moria camp on Lesvos.
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Photo: Katie Salisbury
Caption: A group of Yemeni women look down from their room at Hotel Balasca in Athens, where their clothes dry on the balcony. The United Nations placed them and their families at the hotel until their asylum applications are processed.
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Photo: Katie Salisbury
Caption: Azula left Iraq for Germany because, as a woman, she wasn’t able to work there. Her dream is to become a hair stylist in Berlin.
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Photo: Katie Salisbury
"I was in shock when I saw the mountains of life jackets. I think it was kind of symbolic of our trip…You just can't believe what you're hearing until you see and experience it." — Shelley Cheung

Caption: Shelley Cheung, filmmaker and director of She Is Syria, stands in front of the growing life jacket dump on Lesvos. Her father, who swam to Hong Kong in order to flee Communist China, came to the United States as a refugee in 1977.
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