When European tourists and Syrain refugees meet.

When European Tourists and Syrian Refugees Meet

When European Tourists and Syrian Refugees Meet

Behold
The Photo Blog
March 25 2016 10:32 AM

When European Tourists and Syrian Refugees Meet

PETRASOHILA
Suhaila, 20, from Damascus, Syria, and Petra, 45, from Ridderkerk, the Netherlands. “ ‘How are you doing?’ Petra asked. ‘Good,’ Suhaila said bravely, ‘but I am very tired.’ The past night she and her family had to sleep on the ground of the parking lot for the first time in her life.”

Marieke van der Velden

These days, Lesbos is a tale of two islands. 

For European tourists, the Greek outpost in the Aegean Sea is a summertime escape, a place for leisure and relaxation. For the Syrian refugees who make it there alive, after a treacherous voyage by boat from Turkey, it’s a safe haven and a portal to a new life in the European Union. Mostly, the two groups keep to themselves.

But in Marieke van der Velden and Philip Brink’s short documentary, The Island of All Together, for a brief moment, they cross paths. This August, the Amsterdam-based couple spent 10 days on the island and filmed 12 one-on-one conversations they arranged between recently arrived refugees and vacationing Europeans. Afterward, van der Velden photographed the pairs. The goal, she said, was to inspire a greater sense of empathy in participants and viewers alike.

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“In the Netherlands (and in Europe) there are huge discussions going on, and sometimes people become very severe. Like, ‘Sad for them, but it is not my problem, so they have to stay in Turkey or wherever,’ ” van der Velden said via email. “When people start talking with each other, face to face, they start to feel a bit what it really means for a person when his or her country is in a war, when your house is demolished, the economy and your work stops, and your children can’t go to school for years. We see that it made them softer. The war gets a face, a person with a name and family and a future.”

JANMOHAMED
Mohamad, 50, from Aleppo, Syria, and Jan from Weert, the Netherlands. “Mohamad was once the manager of an Oriental restaurant in Aleppo, but after his house lay completely in ruins and he had escaped death for the third time he decided that he could no longer tempt fate. We met him few hours after his crossing by boat and he talked with Jan from Weert in the Netherlands about his life. With the goodbyes from his wife and son still fresh in his mind he was very emotional.”

Marieke van der Velden

SELMAHUSAM
Selma, 24, from Hannover, Germany and Husam, 26, from Damascus, Syria. “The German Selma and the Syrian Husam had an immediate click by their first meeting on Lesbos. They were evenly matched and had many questions.”

Marieke van der Velden

OTISMOHAMED
Rashad, 51, from Damascus, Syria, and Otis, 19, from Rotterdam, the Netherlands. “ ‘What do you know about Syria?’ asked Rashad from Damascus to Otis from Rotterdam.Ten days ago he left Syria for the first time in his life.‘Not so much,’ Otis said very honestly, ‘except that there is a war going on there.’ ”

Marieke van der Velden

ANNEMARIJNBRIVAN
Annemarijn, 14, from Weert, the Netherlands, and Birvan, 24, from Aleppo, Syria. “Birvan and Annemarijn met one another on the same coast where Birvan had arrived earlier that day with the rubber boat on the crossing from Turkey. Even though she was doing her best to be tough, we could all see how frightening she had found it to be.”

Marieke van der Velden

MARCELHASAN
Marcel, 56, from Veghel, the Netherlands, and Hasan, 33, from Daraa, Syria. “The click was instantaneous. A spontaneous discussion arose about faith, and about fear and the power which controlled mankind. About war and racism. Assad and IS. And about music of course.”

Marieke van der Velden

The idea for the project came this past March. Van der Velden and Brink were making a documentary at refugee camps in Lebanon and realized that many of the people they met would likely try to flee the poor conditions there by boat. Lesbos, they knew, was one of the closest places in Europe to the region. 

Pressed for time, the couple cast the first people they managed to recruit for the project. They enlisted fellow Europeans at their hotel and asked Syrians waiting for a bus at a parking lot in the village of Molyvos. The pairs spoke, flanked by three cameras, for approximately 30 minutes each. With the help of an instantaneous translator broadcast in earpieces provided to them, the conversations, which covered politics and lighter topics like soccer and music, unfolded relatively smoothly. Each meeting ended with the participants taking a selfie together.

“While we sat quietly behind the camera we let every conversation take its own course. Sometimes the conversations started somewhat awkwardly, but during the course of the conversation it became easier. And if they were unable to think of something to say they could take one of the question cards, which were located in between them,” the pair wrote on the project’s website

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All of the Syrians featured in the project, van der Velden said, have reached either Germany or Austria. For some of the pairs in The Island of All Together, including Selma, from Hannover, Germany, and Husam, a Syrian now living in Berlin, that means they’re not just acquaintances but, in fact, countrymen. 

“We have a great deal of contact, and I sometimes help him with the translation of the documents and with learning the German language. He is also coming soon to visit me in Hannover,” Selma wrote in an email to the filmmakers. “I can say that I have a good friend in him.”

KEASAFI
Safi, 30, from Aleppo, Syria, and Kea, 22, from Aurich, Germany. “ ‘Uh, where do you come from?’ the German Kea asked Safi. ‘Aleppo, Syria,’ Safi said. He explained that he had fled his city two months ago after the war had left a huge hole in their apartment building. ‘Happily no one was home,’ he said while he showed a picture of the heavily damaged flat on his cellphone.”

Marieke van der Velden

ARCHIEWISSAM
Archie, 5, from Jersey, near United Kingdom, and Wissam, 6, from Damascus, Syria. “At the time of this discussion Wissam was still under the impression that he was out on an adventure with his family instead of fleeing.”

Marieke van der Velden

TILLMANGHANEM
Ghanem, 65, from Damascus, Syria, and Tilmann, 50, from Stuttgart, Germany. “On a bench in a park on Lesbos the German financial consultant Tilmann met the Syrian Ghanem. In response to the question where he came from he pointed to the sea and beyond. ‘Ten days ago I still lived in Damascus.’ ”

Marieke van der Velden

FINNALAA
Alaa, 11, from Damascus, Syria, and Finn, 9, from Jersey, near United Kingdom. “As they chattered on they discovered even more similarities: both had seen the movie The Hobbit and they loved rap. Playing games on the computer was a mutual hobby. Only Alaa was for Real Madrid and Finn for Manchester United.”

Marieke van der Velden

Jordan G. Teicher is the associate editor of Slates Behold blog. Follow him on Twitter.