Each year millions of people are displaced within the borders of their own countries by conflict, disasters, violence and climate stresses.
Fleeting their homes with little more than what they can carry, over weeks, months, or years of international displacement, these items become the physical representation of a world that has since disappeared and for many a promise of return. Whether it is a camera, shirt, or a photo these cherished possessions now serve as both a symbol of struggle and a beacon of hope for them.
Muna Garage Camp for internally displaced people in Maiduguri, Nigeria.
Oza recreates an old photograph (shown below) with the remaining friends and family who managed to escape when Boko Haram when they attacked three years ago.
Today, he only knows the whereabouts of a handful of the people in the 20-year-old photograph. “That’s why when I look at this photo I feel very sad. The others, who Boko Haram abducted or killed, honestly, if I think of them, I feel very sad. Very sad, not just a little bit. I’m not happy because I believe, if they were still around, we’d be together.”
Justina cradles her week-old daughter Rita in Maiduguri. The 19-year-old mother had arrived to the city 3 months ago when she was well into her pregnancy. Boko Haram captured her when they attacked the town of Baga three years ago and later forced her to marry one of their soldiers. She became pregnant after a few years but managed to escape their captivity.
When Hannatun escaped from Boko Haram, her chest was bare and all her children were barefoot. They had no clothes and it was very cold at that time. Sleeping on the ground in a forest, she found this shirt and put it on.
“This t-shirt has kept me safe. Whenever I pick it up, I remember the difficulties I faced, and tears fall from my eyes.”
The aftermath of the battle for the liberation of Mosul from ISIS occupation can be seen throughout the city.
Taha lives back home in Qayara after being displaced for several months by ISIS. Unlike other who lived under ISIS occupation, Taha is one of the few people who has survived being captured four times by ISIS and narrowly escaped an execution. He still carries the scar along the left side of his skull where the bullet grazed him during a failed execution attempt where he managed to swim away in a river.
Taha’s fake ID he made while living in hiding in Mosul. “This Fake ID managed to convince ISIS I was somebody else when they were searching for me. It saved my life,” he says.
Abu Jassim used to farm the lands around Yathreb all his life until ISIS came and took over the area. His family had hoped their displacement would only be temporary, but days became weeks as they traveled from one place to the next until, three months later, they finally found sanctuary in Sulaimaniyah.
Abu was not able to bring many things with him but managed to bring his pigeons, which are a source of comfort and nostalgia for him.
“It helps me relax. They remind me of everything I loved about my life in Yathreb: my farm, the fields, the livestock, having family and friends around me. I am so attached to my pigeons now that they are like a part of the family."
Evelyn prays next to her portrait of Jesus in her home in a displacement camp in Baghdad. The Christian family fled their home in 2014 for fear of being captured by ISIS. She returned to her home 3 and a half years later only to find it ruined and destroyed, with all but their portrait of Jesus remaining untouched.
“The painting has witnessed over 20 years of memories of happiness and sorrow, of what home feels like. It reminds me of what we had in that house, the life we had, the countless times that family and friends got together in that room where the painting hung. It reminds me of home.”
Khalil photo album contains several happy moments with him and his extended Yezidi family back in their hometown of Sinjar. Since then, Khalil and several other Yezidis fled when ISIS attacked their town and later escaped to a displacement camp in Duhok. Since then, several of his relatives including those in his albums have decided to take their chances and flee to Germany through the Mediterranean route.
Moafaq’s Cybershot is one of the last cameras he has left. The Iraqi photographer was trapped in his hometown of Mosul during ISIS’s occupation and when he struggled to make ends meet he was forced to sell off his equipment.
“One by one, the achievements of a lifetime, all of it was gone. This camera was supposed to be the last thing to go but I couldn’t bring myself to sell it.”
Moafaq and his family remain in the IDP camp along with 35,000 others planning for the day he can return home and restart his business capturing life’s simple pleasures.
Grass grows tall in a soccer field in Shyronko, Ukraine. The ghost town has been abandoned for some time due to its close proximity to the "contact line" between Ukrainian Government Forces and Separatist Rebels. Houses can be seen in the distance with damaged roofs due to sustained artillery shelling and no one dares to enter the tall grasses anymore as many areas have since been filled with landmines.
Several years ago, Vlada’s toy cow had a much different meaning when she received as a birthday gift from her first love, Nikita, when she lived in Donetsk. As the war on Donbass erupted in 2014, several families fled the region, driving Vlada to the capitol and Nikita to Crimea.
The couple would keep in touch over time but found themselves on opposing ends of the conflict, culminating with Nikitia returning and enrolling in a military college in the now self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic.” “It was painful. It was another loss. And that was when the cow became… just a cow,” says Vlada.
Tatiana sits in her bridal shop in Kyiv, Ukraine. Originally from Donetsk, her local business was robbed in 2014 by armed groups and following the incident, decided to flee to the capital. Over the next couple of years, Tatiana would go on to create her own business selling wedding dresses through the help of other women who have also become displaced. To this day, Tatiana still carries the train ticket she bought to leave Donetsk as a reminder of how far she’s come and to be appreciative of the good moments in life.
Tetiana’s crib that has been in her family for over 20 years and been a key part of her family. As the shelling began in Donetsk, her and her husband has little time to pack everything they needed but knew she needed the crib. “My two elder daughters grew up in it. Then all my friends were using it for their kids. Of course, we had no doubts that we should take it with us. My best memories are related with this crib,” she explains. In the years since fleeing her home, baby Aleksandra has replaced Maria in the crib, which has become a symbol of rebirth and perseverance.
Valerii holds his dog Dik, who was a stray dog that was anonymously dumped at their home in Eastern Ukraine. When he, who has become internally displaced from the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, saw the dog he decided to keep it and take care of it saying, “We can’t leave him alone because someone just dumped him. We were also just dumped aside because if this war so we know exactly what he’s going through.”