Photo Essay: Syrian Refugees Find Hope Again

Adolescent girls who have fled Syria find continued risks in refugee camps: early marriage, abuse and lack of education. Photographer David Brunetti turns his lens on their diverse lives – and how they are finding renewed hope in camps where UNFPA provides support.

Written by David Brunetti Published on Read time Approx. 4 minutes
The Kawergosk refugee camp, in the Kurdistan Region of Northern Iraq. Refugees living in this camp are mainly Kurds, fleeing Syria. UNFPA 2015 | David Brunetti

“My marriage only lasted three months, but during that time I was abused every day, sometimes even five times a day,” says Sabreen, below, now 14, who was forced to leave her home in Hasakeh, Syria.

(UNFPA 2015 | David Brunetti)
(UNFPA 2015 | David Brunetti)

Sabreen was coerced into an early marriage when she reached Domiz camp in the Kurdistan region of Iraq. Extreme physical and mental abuse from her husband led her to run away and get a divorce. The shame she felt and the stigma the divorce caused her family drove her to attempt suicide. She now attends counseling sessions at the women’s center in the Domiz camp.

Before the war in Syria, Ranim, pictured below, says she was like any other bright girl with dreams of an education. The conflict changed everything. Her family had to flee their home in the city of Homs, and she was made to marry her cousin at just 14 years old.

Before the war in Syria, Ranim says she was like any other bright girl with dreams of an education. The conflict changed everything. Her family had to flee their home in the city of Homs, and she was made to marry her cousin at just 14 years old. Now, aged 16, she is a divorced mother of a two-year-old, living in temporary accommodation in the Damascus countryside. Counseling from a social worker has helped rebuild her confidence after the divorce and taught her to stand up for her rights. "I am gradually starting to enjoy an ordinary life again," she says. "The tears still come, but there are many more smiles too." (UNFPA 2015 | David Brunetti)
(UNFPA 2015 | David Brunetti)

Now, aged 16, she is a divorced mother of a two-year-old, living in temporary accommodation in the Damascus countryside. Counseling from a social worker has helped rebuild her confidence after the divorce and taught her to stand up for her rights.

“I am gradually starting to enjoy an ordinary life again,” she says. “The tears still come, but there are many more smiles, too.”

(UNFPA 2015 | David Brunetti)
(UNFPA 2015 | David Brunetti)

When Isra’a, 29, above, arrived at Zaatari camp in Jordan, her conservative father forbade her and her sister from leaving the house. When the sisters made a rare trip out of the house to go to a health center, they managed to get in contact with a social worker at the camp. At camps like these, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) supports extensive programs for women, girls and families who have been affected by the Syrian conflict.

“One day, there was a knock at the door, for the first time since we had arrived at the camp,” she says. “The social worker had come to call.” Gradually, the social worker persuaded their father to let them leave home once a week to attend sessions at the women’s center. Isra’a is now thinking about further education and working with other women in the community.

(UNFPA 2015 | David Brunetti)
(UNFPA 2015 | David Brunetti)

By opening a workshop in the Kawergosk refugee camp, in Iraq’s Kurdistan region, Muna, 30, pictured above, has expanded her love for fashion design and gained respect as a single young woman.

“Being a single young woman is not easy. I faced a lot of challenges at the beginning,” she says. “But this small workshop has given me status and confidence. Hopefully the war won’t last much longer. When we do get back, I’m dreaming of expanding my business and opening a successful shop in Damascus.”

(UNFPA 2015 | David Brunetti)
(UNFPA 2015 | David Brunetti)

Samah, a 32-year-old mother of six, pictured above, has started using contraception since fleeing Damascus and moving into a camp in Tripoli, Lebanon. She says she and her husband would like another child one day, but have decided to wait until the war is over.

“When we arrived at Lebanon, life was especially difficult because we’d just lost everything,” she says. “We found ourselves in a completely different environment, where we were dependent on the help of others. I didn’t know any of my neighbors. But when I found the center, things started to change. Here, I have found a sense of community.”

(UNFPA 2015 | David Brunetti)
(UNFPA 2015 | David Brunetti)

“Together, we sing and make music,” says Rania, 15. She has joined a group set up by her old music teacher at the women’s community center in a camp in Sanliurfa, Turkey, pictured above during practice.

“The center helps me focus on my future. I feel free,” she says. “Free from painful memories of friends and family I’ve lost, and the loss of Syria.”

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