copyright msf caption © Maria Carla Giugliano/MSF
18 Jun 18 09 May 19

Faces of Displacement: Photos from the Doctors Without Borders exhibit

Globally, there are currently more than 65 million people who are displaced from their homes. Children, women and men are fleeing persecution, violence, poverty or war in their home countries.

People are displaced within conflict zones, housed in underserved camps or trapped precariously in detention centres. Many people fleeing are without identification papers and are often unwelcome due to state laws. Deterrence policies and even physical barriers like fences and walls can prevent their crossing at borders.

As an international medical humanitarian organization, Doctors without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) delivers medical care and psychological assistance to vulnerable displaced populations all over the world. We witness the forces driving people from their homes, and the prices they must pay as they try to reach safety and the chance for a better life. The Faces of Displacement photo exhibit shares a few of these personal stories.

In this exhibit, you will meet Ottonio and Rosa, who tried to make their way through Mexico along one of the most travelled migration corridors in the world. Journeying by boat, on foot and along a notoriously dangerous train line, refugees from Central America face the threat of extortion, rape and death as they travel thousands of miles, fleeing brutal gang violence in their home countries and hoping to find peace and safety in North America.

Halfway around the world, Faith and Ali risked their lives crossing the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe. People who seek to make this journey are forced to rely on criminal human smugglers, many of them based in Libya. They use dinghies or rickety fishing boats, overcrowding them to the point that they often sink from the weight, causing thousands to drown as they attempt the dangerous sea crossing.

From Bangladesh, you will meet seven-year-old Kishatara and 70-year-old Subi Katum, who are Rohingya refugees. They escaped targeted ethnic violence against Rohingyas in Myanmar. The displacement camps where they have found shelter in Bangladesh are so overcrowded that disease and hunger easily spread. The Rohingya are stateless people: they are citizens of neither Bangladesh nor Myanmar, and are vulnerable to persecution on both sides of the border.

From the Democratic Republic of Congo, you will meet Asinati and Bonifasi. Both became displaced after fighting erupted between armed militias in Tanganyika Province, forcing hundreds of thousands of people from their homes. Like many others, they must now find a way to make ends meet in the deplorable living conditions of overcrowded settlements for displaced people.

With these stories, our intention is to show some of the human faces of the global displacement crisis. Their stories are many and their struggles may seem overwhelming, but they highlight the shared humanity of people striving for hope, dignity, safety and peace in their lives.

Democratic Republic of Congo - Kaémie Town

“This is not what I call life. I have to sleep outside, and I only have some small blankets that I use at night to cover my children, as it’s very cold and we are suffering. I don’t sleep and in the morning I worry about food. How will I feed my children?”

- Asinati, 36

Democratic Republic of Congo - Mweso IDP Camp

“Since April 2017 I’ve lived here at the school. I lost two of my sons, they were 17 and 20 years old. The war took them. Due to the fighting we had to flee and we didn’t bring anything with us. I really wish the war will end so I can go back to my village. My home is there. I feel safe here but we cannot cultivate the land and we don’t have a place to sleep. The rest of my family is here, there are six of us.”

- Bonifasi, 75

Mexico - Tenosique, Tabasco

Rosa, 54, fled El Salvador with two of her grandchildren aged 14 and 16 years old. Local gangs known as Mara had threatened to take the boys away and recruit them. Two of her other grandchildren have been murdered, while another has been recruited by these groups.

Mexico - Guadalajara Migrant Shelter

“The border [between Mexico and the United States] is becoming nasty. I reckon it will soon be very difficult to cross the border, that’s why I’m trying again now. The smugglers used to take 35-40,000 pesos (US $2,000). Now the price has doubled.”

- Ottoniel

Ottoniel has tried to cross to the United States four times in nine years. The first time he was caught by immigration officers in Texas and deported back to Guatemala.

Mediterranean Sea - Onboard MSF search-and-rescue vessel MV Aquarius

“I was very stressed on the rubber boat, sitting on the floor of the boat with the other women and children. Panicking that I would go into labour. I could feel my baby moving, he would move down and then move back up again. I had been having contractions for three days.”

- Faith

Newman Otas was born to Nigerian parents, Victor and Faith, on board the MV Aquarius in international waters. Only 24 hours earlier, before being picked up by the Aquarius, they were travelling from Libya on an overcrowded, unseaworthy rubber boat.

Mediterranean Sea - Onboard MSF search-and-rescue vessel Bourbon Argos

“[In Libya] they gave us food once a day, just pasta. They beat me just because I asked for something to eat. I made pottery, but they didn’t pay me. They took my passport so I could no longer go back but just move on to Italy by boat. We boarded at night from Sabratha, 700 people on a wooden boat, there were also children. They didn’t give me the life jacket. I tried to protest but they told me to shut up and stay at my place, pointing their gun at me.”

- Jewel, 25

Jewel is from Dhaka, Bangladesh. His family paid smugglers $7,000 US for his transit to Europe. Over seven days, he travelled through Turkey, Sudan and Libya, where he was detained for four months. He was finally able to board a boat to attempt a crossing to Italy. The overcrowded boat was rescued by MSF’s search-and-rescue vessel Bourbon Argos in the Central Mediterranean.

Mediterranean Sea - Onboard MSF search-and-rescue vessel Aquarius

“Growing up in my homeland without my parents was the most difficult thing for me, until reaching Libya. ... Libya is no place for any living person. They take everything from you including your spirit and crush it. ... Many people are raped and murdered [there]. I am glad I wasn't one of them. We were 135 in the boat … none of us had life-jackets. They wanted much money for them, none of us had enough. … Before we were rescued, our boat was almost half filled with water, myself and the others were so scared.” 

- Ali, 18

Ali is from Nigeria. He lost both of his parents when he was 11 and was raised by his grandparents. A family friend paid for him to attempt to travel to Europe through Libya, to escape violence in Nigeria. He hopes to become a doctor. “I want my nation and the world to be proud of me.”

Bangladesh - Sabrang Entry Point

“My husband was killed and my daughter’s husband disappeared. Many people have been killed or are lost. I hope all of this will finish one day but I can’t tell what the future holds. Like many others, we were obliged to abandon our villages, our houses, our land, our animals. People are desperate to leave but many don’t have any possibility. I feel exhausted and unable to walk. I haven’t eaten for three days. It’s very hard.”

- Subi Katum, 70

Bangladesh - Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh

More than 693,000 Rohingya refugees have arrived in Cox’s Bazar district in south-eastern Bangladesh since late August 2017 after fleeing targeted violence in Rakhine State, Myanmar. The influx continues today. Living conditions are unacceptable and the risk of illness is high. People are living in makeshift shelters; camps are overpopulated and lack safe drinking water, proper hygiene and sanitation. MSF has scaled up its operations in the region to respond to what remains an acute emergency with huge humanitarian needs.

Bangladesh - Cox’s Bazar

“I don’t have diphtheria anymore, but we know that if we feel sick we need to reach the health centre or look for the right organization. We are still worried. Other diseases could affect us: like diarrhea or skin diseases. And when the rain comes our house will be full of water, as we sleep on the ground. We really feel unsafe.”

- Kishatara, 7

Kishatara (left) is a Rohingya girl. She was hospitalized at an MSF diphtheria treatment centre, accompanied by her father Sobo Alam, 50 (right).

South Sudan - Bentiu Protection of Civilians Camp

MSF runs health care facilities in the UN Protection of Civilians camp (PoC) in Bentiu, South Sudan. The MSF hospital is the only hospital for the population of the camp. It provides 24-hour emergency room care, intensive care for malnourished children, medical treatment in pediatric and adult wards and surgical and maternity services. More than 100,000 people live in dire conditions in the Bentiu PoC, having fled ongoing violence.

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