Departures: Photo Essays of Refugees in Greece and Lebanon

A Note from the Photographer

My name is Xizi Luo and I graduated summa cum laude from Babson College in 2018 with concentrations in Economics and Global and Regional Studies. As part of my honors thesis, I traveled to Greece and Lebanon between December 2017 and January 2018 to chronicle narratives of forced migration in the Eastern Mediterranean. The photographs resulting from this 25-day trip are arranged according to six chapters on this page.

The first chapter, titled “From Here to There”, contains photographs from locations that are geographically closest to Syria. The Syrian civil war is the conflict that has displaced many of the subjects of my photographs. Photos from the first chapter are taken in the northernmost and easternmost governorates of Lebanon, adjacent to Syria’s western border. I was granted access to five Syrian shelter sites in Lebanon by the Union of Relief and Development Associations, a Lebanese non-governmental humanitarian organization. Across the sea in Greece, I met Palestinian, Afghan, and Ethiopian refugees, in addition to Syrian refugees, whom I had befriended while volunteering in Greece during the summer of 2017. My photo essays were only made possible by the NGOs, individuals, and families who entrusted me with researching their work and their lives. I am indebted to their generosity.

From life in camps to life in the city, and through the perspectives of men, women, and children, I allowed recurring visual themes to guide my photo essay chapters. I edited thousands of shots down to around 60 photographs that best represent the 16 refugee and NGO interviews I conducted. These stories are paired with images from private residences, public squares, and 10 refugee camps. There is minimal cropping, retouching, and color adjustments in my photographs as I hope to convey the realism I experienced.

Yet, my photographs cannot reproduce the fullness of my experiences nor the complexities of the communities who invited me in. I believe that photographs are seen three times: first at their moment of capture, then during post-production, and finally when they are shared. Publication is where my job as a photographer ends. The rest is up to you, the observer, to decide what to do.

“Athens Airport changes its people every day. But we have stayed put, seats upon seats, waiting for the sea. For how many years, Athens Airport?”

Above: Excerpt from “Athens Airport” by exiled Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, translation by Abdullah al-Udhari. Photograph of rain-flooded main street of Al Awdah Shelter Site in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon.

Cover photo: A girl and boy play in view of the mountains separating Lebanon from Syria. Taken at Al Yasmine Shelter Site on January 18, 2018.

From Here to There: Syrian Refugees in Lebanon

In January 2018, I toured five shelter sites for Syrian refugees operated by the Union of Relief and Development Associates in Lebanon. The Union of Relief and Development Associates (URDA) is a Lebanese non-governmental organization founded in 2012 to coordinate humanitarian relief for Syrian refugees in Lebanon. URDA has constructed, renovated, or rented 30 shelter […]

This is Home Now: Stateless Palestinians in Beirut

When does being a refugee become permanent? While refugees connote a temporary state, I discovered generations of refugees in the Middle East. This chapter is devoted to Palestinian refugees in Lebanon whose displacement turns 70 this year. Photographs from this chapter are taken in two urban refugee camps in Beirut: Mar Elias and Shatila (Chatila). […]

Coming of Age: Refugee Education in Lebanon and Greece

During my fieldwork, I encountered initiatives to educate child and adult refugees. In Lebanon, I learned about programs created by the Lebanese government to catch up Syrian children at school. In Athens, I visited The American College of Greece’s refugee scholarship program and the Melissa Network of Migrant Women.

On the Margins of Europe: Greece’s Vulnerable Peoples

Socioeconomic integration is the ultimate goal for refugees. After escaping persecution, refugees hope to start their lives anew in host countries. Yet integration remains elusive where economic opportunities are scarce. In the absence of legal employment, refugees enter a cycle of aid dependency or turn to the shadow economy. In the shadow economy, trafficking and […]