What's In A Refugee's Bag? Here's What 7 Of Them Brought On Their Escape.

"I thought, if I die on this boat, at least I will die with the photos of my family near me."

With the refugee crisis continuing to dominate headlines across the globe, the staggering statistics can detach one from the situation at hand. 

Recently, the International Rescue Committee (IRC), a humanitarian aid organization, collaborated with photographer Tyler Jump to show a different side to the crisis. In a hauntingly intimate photo series called What's In My Bag?, refugees who have landed in Lesbos, Greece, shed light on the items that they carry while running for their lives. 

Often traveling by dangerous rubber dinghies, refugees face a trek like no other. They are at constant risk of being shot at, detained and starved. Along their journey, many are forced to dump out whatever isn't essential as their leaky, decrepit boats take in water.

The series asked a mother, a child, a teenager, a family of 31, a pharmacist and an artist and to share the little that they've managed to hold on to from where they've come.


1. Aboessa*; 20; Damascus, Syria.

Tyler Jump/International Rescue Committee

Aboessa escaped Syria with her husband and her 10-month-old daughter. 

"Everything is for my daughter to protect her against sickness," she told IRC. "When we arrived in Greece, a kind man gave me two jars of food. Another man gave us biscuits and water when he saw my baby."

Tyler Jump/International Rescue Committee

2. Omran*; 6; Damascus, Syria.

Tyler Jump/International Rescue Committee

Omran is en route to Germany with his family to live with relatives.

Tyler Jump/International Rescue Committee

3. Iqbal*; 17; Kunduz, Afghanistan.

Tyler Jump/International Rescue Committee

Iqbal dodged bullets to escape the tumultuous Kunduz in northern Afghanistan, traveled hundreds of miles past Iran, then Turkey. "I want my skin to be white and hair to be spiked  —  I don't want them to know I'm a refugee. I think that someone will spot me and call the police because I'm illegal."

Now in Lesbos, the teenager is unsure of his next destination.  

Tyler Jump/International Rescue Committee

4. A family; Syria.

Tyler Jump/International Rescue Committee

The family (seven women, four men and 2 children) fled Syria together. Each took one or two bags, but while traveling to Greece via Turkey, their boat began sinking. 

The family managed to salvage a single bag among them. 

Tyler Jump/International Rescue Committee

5. Hassan*; 25; Syria.

Tyler Jump/International Rescue Committee

"This is all I have. They told us we could only bring two things, one extra shirt and pants."

Tyler Jump/International Rescue Committee

6. A pharmacist; 34, Syria.

Tyler Jump/International Rescue Committee

The pharmacist, who wanted to remain anonymous, fled to Turkey with his family. He made the crossing to Greece in a dinghy with 53 others, including children. 

Then the coast guard found them and shouted for the boat to stop. "We didn't realize it was the police," he told IRC. "We were told by friends not to stop because they will take you back to Turkey. We didn't know the Greek language. We couldn't understand what they were saying. We held the children. I thought to myself, 'Let me reach the beach and anything you say I will do.'"

Their boat sank, leaving everyone in the sea. 45 minutes later, the pharmacist was rescued. "I had to leave behind my parents and sister in Turkey," he said. "I thought, if I die on this boat, at least I will die with the photos of my family near me."

Read more about his journey here.

Tyler Jump/International Rescue Committee

7. Nour*; 20; Syria.

Tyler Jump/International Rescue Committee

Back in Syria, Nour was an artist: he played music and painted. When the fighting closed in on him, the 20-year-old grabbed only the things that reminded him of home and fled. 

"I left Syria with two bags, but the smugglers told me I could only take one," he said. "The other bag had all of my clothes. This is all I have left."

Tyler Jump/International Rescue Committee

The IRC accepts donations here.

* Last names are left out to protect the individuals' identities.

Cover image via Tyler Jump/International Rescue Committee


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