Displaced: Stories from the Syrian Diaspora
A comprehensive account of the Syrian Refugee Crisis at its peak in 2015
Two years in the making, Displaced is the first photobook of its kind and scope, documenting the journey of over a million refugees to Europe and giving them the space to share their stories in their own voice.
As a Syrian-American, I wrote Displaced to bridge the gaps between my two cultures, to recast the narrative not in abstract economic or sociological terms, but in human stories. The photography by Sara Kerens is intimate and focused. Her photos capture the smallest human experiences in a fast-changing, large-scale crisis.
We are living through the largest refugee crisis in the history of the world. Every major election in the western world since 2015 has revolved around immigration policy. The Syrian Civil War, the main driver of the crisis, has turned into a complex web of escalating proxy wars. Behind these nation-scale events are individuals with vibrant lives.
In contrast to long-running conflicts, Syria has lived in relative peace for decades. The generations of Syrians displaced today did not grow up under the sounds of jet planes and gunshots. Instead, they lived thoroughly modern lives, consuming media online and offline, on smartphones and flatscreens, engaged with the outside world. Naturally, wealth was not evenly distributed, but Syria had a real middle class nonetheless, and a large portion of the refugees who could afford the trip to Europe belonged to it.
These two realities — the significance of the crisis and the culture gap — prompted this book. If the American public is voting on refugee rights, demystifying the term “Refugee” seems like a worthwhile pursuit.
Due to the urgency of the situation, Sara and I did not have the time to pitch this book to publishers to secure funding. Instead, we turned to Kickstarter, where we ran a successful campaign to fund the journey and the initial production run of the book. Thanks to the generous support of our community, we were able to hit our financial goal in just three weeks. We immediately packed our bags and flew to Europe.l
We documented the journey from Turkey to Northern Europe over a 10 week period as the refugee crisis hit its peak in 2015. We focused our gaze on two hot-spots: Greece, and Germany.
Skala Sikamineas, on the island of Lesbos, was the primary landing spot for refugees arriving on inflatable boats, knowns a dinghies. We were struck not only by the intense reality of the boat arrivals, but by the spirit and tenacity of the volunteers and locals. They dedicated months of their lives to helping strangers in need, often at great personal cost.
Germany on the other hand, was the preferred destination for the vast majority of the arrivals. Angela Merkel’s decision to welcome any person requesting asylum in Germany was a key turning point in the crisis. Combined with a strong industrial sector and financial aid, Germany was seen as the haven from which the displaced could rebuild.
The book documents both the journey and the people with 16 intimate stories of displacement and eight profiles of volunteers and locals affected by the crisis. Displaced will provide an account of life in Syria during the war, and answer the most common questions of the casual observer: Who is coming? Why are they coming? Why are some people choosing to take a dangerous trip to Europe? What are they hoping to do here? What are they leaving behind?
Sara Kerens (Photographer) is a New York City–based photographer who has set out to capture the human experience. For the past ten years her focus has been on fashion, travel, commercial, and documentary work. As a visual storyteller, she has photographed iconic figures from Barack Obama, to Margaret Thatcher, to Chinese civil rights activist Cheng Guangcheng, and documented a broad range of experiences from Susan Sarandon and Alan Cumming on top of the Empire State Building to the hundreds of refugees across Turkey and Europe for the Displaced book. Sara has also photographed backstage at New York Fashion Week and London Fashion Week and has been featured in top publications worldwide. Her work seeks to bring understanding through the common humanity in us all.
Majd Taby (Writer, Producer) is a writer and software developer who studied computer science at the University of Michigan, where he first immigrated from Syria in 2003. After moving to Silicon Valley, he worked as an engineer and designer at Apple, Facebook, and Instagram. Most recently, Majd started Darkroom, a company to build tools for photographers. Over time, his passion for photography and storytelling has grown, and that passion is what drove the idea behind Displaced.
Despite leaving years before the start of the war, he has visited the country every year until the start of the war. What started as an idea for a small art project has blossomed into the project you are reading about today.