Beyond the Camps: Images of the Syrian Exodus

In sheer numbers alone, the scale of Syria’s humanitarian crisis is difficult to grasp: a third of the country’s 22.5 million people have abandoned their homes; 10 percent have fled the country, including more than one million children. As we describe in our article in The New York Review, however, the crisis has also been hard to understand because the Syrians who have fled are dispersed in hundreds of villages, towns, and cities across the region. These photographs, taken during our reporting for the story, show some of the many different situations we encountered among Syrian refugees in Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, and Iraq.

Syria slideshow 1.jpg

Alisa Roth

Partly because of high-profile visitors like John Kerry and Jon Stewart, camps like Zaatari, in northern Jordan, have received a lot of attention in the media. But only a quarter of the more than two million Syrian refugees live in camps.

Syria slideshow 2.jpg

Alisa Roth

Most refugees live in urban areas, struggling to survive with little help from local or international aid groups. Some live in squatter communities like this one in a field in Amman, Jordan. The family who lives in this tent ‘borrows’ electricity from a factory next door. The men work occasional odd jobs at a wholesale produce market nearby. Roughly half a million Syrians are thought to live in Jordan.

Syria slideshow 3.jpg

Alisa Roth

Fuaz Ruhayyad, a butcher from Homs, came to Mafraq, Jordan with his family, after his brother and other relatives were killed for being Sunni.

Syria slideshow 4.jpg

Alisa Roth

Although Ruhayyad and his family refurbished this abandoned house themselves, they still have to pay rent, and for water and electricity. It’s illegal for them to work in Jordan. Ruhayyad says they live off “the grace of God.”

Syria slideshow 5.jpg

Alisa Roth

The children in Ruhayyad’s family only go to school occasionally, even though they all went to school in Syria. Syrians are allowed to attend Jordanian schools, but two-thirds don’t, according to the UN. Even so, many Jordanian schools have had to add second shifts to accommodate all the new students.

Syria slideshow 6.jpg

Alisa Roth

These children in Gaziantep, Turkey go to a special school, staffed by Syrian teachers, many of whom work as volunteers. Syrian students are allowed to attend Turkish schools, but because of the language barrier and other concerns, very few do. There are over 400,000 Syrians in Turkey.

Syria slideshow 7.jpg

Alisa Roth

School has become a luxury many Syrian families simply can’t afford. This boy, who lives with his family in Beirut, doesn’t go to school anymore because the fees are too expensive. His 14-year-old brother, who went to school in Syria, now supports the family by working in a bakery.

Syria slideshow 8.jpg

Alisa Roth

Although they are not Palestinian, they moved to Shatila, an over-crowded Palestinian refugee camp in south Beirut because it was the only place they could afford. His mother says the locals make them feel unwelcome.

Syria slideshow 9.jpg

Hugh Eakin

Even among populations where there are close ethnic bonds there can be little support for refugees. In the expensive Kurdish region of Iraq, Syrian Kurds have been officially welcomed as “brothers,” but some 70,000 live in primitive tents at Domiz camp, exposed to extreme desert temperatures.

Syria slideshow 10.jpg

Alisa Roth

Especially in expensive cities like Beirut and Amman, refugees take shelter where they can. A Damascus widower and his young daughter hung this mirror in their apartment in an abandoned building across from the UN office in Beirut. He joked that they don’t need a refrigerator in the winter because the apartment is so cold they can just leave the food out.

Syria slideshow 11.jpg

Hugh Eakin

Many Syrians in Lebanon, which has no camps, have relied on the generosity of local villagers. This Syrian girl’s family occupies a dirt-floor house in the Beqaa Valley belonging to Lebanese neighbors.

Syria slideshow 12.jpg

Alisa Roth

Even though many Syrians in Gaziantep’s ‘Little Aleppo’ are middle-class—their ranks include at least 60 physicians—many sleep in parks or at mosques. The Syrian owner of this restaurant, which has become a resource center for the displaced, installed a washing machine and shower in the bathroom.

Reporting for this article was supported by a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

Subscribe and save 50%!

Get immediate access to the current issue and over 25,000 articles from the archives, plus the NYR App.

Already a subscriber? Sign in