A photo exhibition shows a journey to safety

In 2011 Haitham and Hend Alrahal and their two children fled the war in Syria to seek refuge in Lebanon, only to experience the hardship of the refugee camps there. As they fled the family took precious family photos with them, and throughout their journey Haitham documented their experiences with his camera.

“I wanted to show the effect of war on Syrians and on our cities through the photos, and how much our family went through to get here,” he said.

Their journey was a difficult one – while in Lebanon they fell victim to scammers offering to help them to find safety, but who instead stole all their savings. Haitham also suffered an accident in Lebanon that injured his back.

The family sought help from UNHCR and in 2020 they were accepted into Ireland’s Community Sponsorship Programme. They were welcomed by a community sponsorship group based in Cork, who had been working to welcome the family. The group helped them to settle into a new home, and supported them with all of the aspects of building a new life in Ireland, with the assistance of Nasc Migrant and Refugee Rights Centre, who are one of the regional support organisations for the Community Sponsorship Programme.

Janet Twomey, a member of the Cork based sponsorship group, said that when Haitham shared his photos with the group, a photo exhibition was suggested as a way to share their experiences with the wider community, and he and his wife Hend agreed.

“I suppose in one sense it was thought that it might be a good way to let people know what a refugee journey might be like – and to show that a family who had fled unimaginable suffering was now living here in safety and really settling into Irish life,” Janet said.

Some photographs showed how the couple met in Syria, their engagement party and wedding with their family around them, and the arrival of their children, as well as the beginning of the war, fleeing the country, and their new life in Ireland.

“I wanted to show the effect of war on Syrians and on our cities through the photos, and how much our family went through to get here.”


Both of Haitham’s parents passed away in Syria, and he said sharing his parents’ photos and also what their life was like in Syria with the community has meant a lot to him.

“In Syria my father was a teacher and we had a little garden where we could grow vegetables. I worked as an electrician. Life was good there before the war,” he said.

Haitham said their life has changed so much after they arrived in Ireland. “The difference is from the night to day, the difference in treatment. We felt we didn’t have rights before, and in the camps there was often no electricity, sometimes no food, it was a very hard time,” he said.

“When we came here we were welcomed, people are friendly, which is such a basic thing, and everything is going well, you can’t compare the difference. We are very happy to be here,” he added.

To honour their journey, the main theme of the photo exhibition was ‘Healing’. The photos were first exhibited during World Refugee Week, and then the exhibit remained open for people to see throughout the same year.

Janet said there was a very positive response from the community to the exhibition. “On the opening day the room was packed. Many community members had supported the arrival of the family and the fundraisers, so it was great for them to be able to meet the family for real and spend some time talking to them about their story.” she said.

“It was a very heartening piece to be involved in,” Janet said. “I felt it would be such a powerful and heart-warming story to share with others,” she added.

Are you interested in getting involved? Find out how to take part by clicking the link:
The Open Community is the national support organisation for Ireland’s Community Sponsorship Programme for Refugees. We are a partnership of Doras, the Irish Red Cross, the Irish Refugee Council, Nasc, UNHCR, and Amnesty International Ireland. We are currently being incubated as a project within Amnesty International Ireland, but will be incorporated as an independent entity by the end of 2023.
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