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.