The Beautiful Prison: A Photo Series

“I am Sara.. I am a Syrian refugee. I have taken this picture and I would like to explain it …. Even if l’m in Vial .. I will erase these black clouds and make my future wherever I am …”

Chios is beautiful.

It is a beautiful island, between Mainland Greece and Turkey, that has always been full to the brim with island-hopping travellers stepping through the streets of the seaside towns, hiking the lofty mountains, swimming in the clear, cool water. The coastal line is packed with bars and restaurants, and there are hotels on every corner.

But for other travellers hoping to pass through this island, Chios is a beautiful prison.

Since the EU-Turkey deal was passed on 20th March 2016, the displaced persons travelling through Greece on their journey through to “safe” Europe have been stopped in their tracks as they arrived at the islands between Greece and Turkey at ‘hotspots’ like Chios, that exist as something between a refugee camp and a detention centre. With the new island restriction that was implemented as part of the deal, the thousands of refugees on Chios must wait for their entire asylum application to be processed from here. This takes many months, and often over a year.

One group that this particularly effects is women. In response to the needs of this vulnerable group on Chios, Action from Switzerland opened the Athena Centre for Women in July 2016. In November 2016, they launched their #MAKEITSAFE CAMPAIGN:

‘Having been on Chios since January 2016, we have been first hand witnesses to the impact of the EU-Turkey deal on our fellow human beings fleeing war and persecution, since its enforcement on 20th March 2016. The normally transient population of the displaced, was forced into stagnancy. Within this population, extra vulnerable groups with specific needs became more acute — one of which are the women and for months, we’ve witnessed them targeted, exploited and exposed to sexual and gender based violence in camps.

We have documented their challenges in terms of psychosocial, health complications, physical harm, exploitation, discrimination and harassment. On top of gender-based discrimination, they’ve also been targeted on additional grounds such as race, disability or belonging to a minority group.

We will however, be focusing on being the collective voice of the female refugee population in the camps. Because they need and want to be heard about their series of uphill challenges from the biggest humanitarian crisis the world is witnessing since World War 2. They want to speak about how often their voice and participation has been constrained and silenced, as their risk of violence, an ever-present reality for all women worldwide, significantly increases.

And we are going to help them do that through this campaign where they can speak up against norms around violence and women’s rights. And know for generations to come that they can be stronger than they already are, powerful, and heard.’

As part of the Athena Centre for Women’s #MAKEITSAFE campaign, Refugee Info Bus is running a film photography project at the centre with women from the two camps on Chios island. The women, 17–30 year olds from different nationalities, have been documenting their experiences living on the island of Chios.

The initial series, from the film that has been returned from us so far, is startling in it’s serenity, it’s peaceful timelessness, it’s otherworldly aesthetic. Abstracted sections of sky through shelter roof tops; children hiding in the wild beauty of the mountains that back the infamous Vial refugee camp; brightly illuminated flowers clutched in a lone hand, seemingly belonging to nobody; paintily streaks of colour behind black silhouettes of trees

These images do not speak of the indisputable daily traumas, difficulties, and abuses that face women refugees in the refugee camps on the island of Chios. They speak of hopefulness, the seizing of a beauty where it would seem there is none, escape. Escape from this beautiful prison.

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