Picturing Loss: Syrian Families Pose for Portraits, Leaving Space for Missing Loved Ones

Photographer Dario Mitidieri visited a refugee camp in Lebanon, taking portraits of Syrian families, leaving space in each photo for loved ones missing or killed in the 5-year conflict.

Kalila: “I want my voice heard.”

Kalila’s husband, Ahmed, told her to leave Syria—it was too dangerous for them to live there. Ahmed was forced to stay, but Kalila took the children and fled to Lebanon.

Kalila has a message: “I want my voice heard. We need basics here: food, winter supplies and especially medicines for the children.”

Ahmed is now reunited with the family and living with them in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon.

Razir: An impossible choice

This is the family of 40-year-old Razir, whose husband was kidnapped and executed.

Razir didn’t have enough money to bring all of her children to safety, so she had to make an impossible decision: Which two do I leave behind?

With no other option, she left her two oldest—both girls.

The family now lives in a tent no bigger than a single bedroom, their only possessions a blanket the size of a bath towel and the clothes on their backs. They haven’t heard from the two girls who were left behind in seven months.

Ammouna: The father she left behind

When the bombardment intensified in her hometown, Ammouna told her family it was time to leave.

They took only what they were wearing, and the journey was a dangerous one. Like so many, they took a bus, which made frequent stops in the mountains near the Lebanese border. There the family had to get out and walk, braving dangerous areas where armed groups were fighting one another.

Ammouna worries about her father, whom she left behind: “I try to speak to him as often as I can, but it is difficult. Sometimes I can’t get a signal on my phone, and other times we worry about what we say to each other in case someone is listening.”

Mahmoud: Life reduced to dust

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Just weeks before this photo was taken, Mahmoud lost his beloved wife; his children lost their mother. They had gone to the market to buy food, leaving their mom at home. When they came back, the house and everything in it had been reduced to dust, laid waste by a missile.

The children miss their mother so much, and each of them is suffering trauma after witnessing so many acts of violence.

When asked about the future, Mahmoud says: “We have no future. We have nothing”.

Sahar: Nine missing children

Before the war, 50 year-old Sahar describes having lived “a good life, a simple life.” Her husband had died, so her children looked after her.

Then a year-and-a-half ago, Sahar was woken from her bed in the middle of the night by the sound of airstrikes.

She woke her three children who were with her. They managed to escape, but her other nine children could not, and she hasn’t heard from them since. She shared, “It breaks my heart not having all my children here. I cry every day thinking of them.”

Souraya: The reunion that wasn’t

This is the family of 34-year-old Souraya. Two years ago, her husband told her to take their children and find safety. He knew that where they lived was too dangerous, but he stayed to look after their home and to find work.

In time, he had saved the money he needed to join his wife and young children in the camp. Five months before this photo was taken, he was killed when a missile struck the bus he was traveling on.

Ghazyeh: “I ask you to think of us.”

Ghazyeh’s husband was killed by missiles while she was out shopping for food.

She knew it was unsafe to stay, so she fled Syria with her children, traveling through active war zones before making it to her camp.

She says of her life, “My home has been destroyed and I have lost my husband. It is so sad what is happening to Syria, but I ask that you think of us, you think of my children. We have come from danger, from bombs, from death, and we are safe. We are safe, but there is nothing for us.”

Photos made by Dario Mitidieri for CAFOD and shared with permission.