Journey uncovers the truth about Syrian refugees

Miriam (Musaa's daughter) in the family tent. Camp Mercy, Bekaa Valley Lebanon
Miriam (Musaa's daughter) in the family tent. Camp Mercy, Bekaa Valley Lebanon Brian Rogers

A CALOUNDRA photographer's experience with meeting Syrian refugees in Lebanon has challenged what our society thinks about refugees.

With fireworks and gunshot being blasted into the air throughout the night to celebrate both the end of Ramadan and the start of the Christians' wedding season, Brian Rogers was soon able to distinguish between the sound of a shotgun and an assault rifle.

He had brushes with a suspected suicide bomber in a car less than 10 metres away and was on high alert while walking the streets on his way to and from his commissioned work at Camp Mercy in the Bekaa Valley.

But the experienced press photographer said he didn't really feel safe until he was inside the walls of the refugee camp.

"They have a code that you are their guest and if someone tried to harm you, they would lay down their life to protect you," Mr Rogers said.

"Whether you were Christian or Muslim, no one gave a toss where you were from, or what religion you were, they judged you by your character.

"I was working alongside an American and they didn't judge him by what his country had done, but here, in this country, if you're a Muslim, you must be a terrorist. It's shameful."

Despite the hospitality of the refugees whom he spent two weeks getting to know and capturing with his camera, Mr Rogers said the conditions they were living in indefinitely were inhumane.

"The first time you walk through a camp, you can never un-see, you can never un-smell, you open Pandora's box," he said.

"The stench hits you first. It's the combination of composting sewage, the dust and the heat. It crushes the oxygen out of your lungs and you feel it sink into your bones.

"Nothing can prepare you for it. People have to live in this 24/7 and there is no escape. We could leave in an air-conditioned car and go and stay in an apartment with running water and a flushing toilet.

"It was hard to comprehend how people could be allowed to live this. These are completely innocent people and all they are guilty of is being born in the wrong place at the wrong time. It is soul destroying."

Mr Rogers said the journey was an emotional roller coaster, which saw him fluctuate between moments of pure despair and hysterical laughter - the latter of which was usually brought on by his attempt at communicating in Arabic.

Adopting Arabic name of Nubil, as there is no "br" sound in the language, Mr Rogers met refugees of all ages and learnt more about their stories.

"As a photojournalist it's about bedding it in, not just walking in and treating it like a zoo, it's about that personal one on one time," he said.

"The majority of the refugees in camps I was in were from Aleppo and on a weekly basis they are losing relatives.

"They only information they get is through a phone app, which messages showing relatives burying their loved ones. Only the wives can go back to pay their respects if they choose, because all of the men are fighting age and they would get killed."

Mr Rogers also connected with Kim Edwards, the former Sunshine Coast businesswoman who is pioneering an English language program in the refugee camps in a bid to empower and provide a sense of hope for those who are in limbo.

He said Ms Edwards was considered a "Mother Teresa" in the camp as she set about transforming lives out of her own pocket.

He filmed a video with Ms Edwards, which will be released on the Brian Rogers Photographics site later this week.

Mr Rogers said he would love to take Pauline Hanson out to walk through the refugee camp with him to experience the kindness and hospitality of the people.

For now, he is sharing his journey far and wide to dispel the idea that refugees are something Australians should fear.


Words penned by Brian during his journey

There has been some chatter around security

Things have been very quiet

Almost too quiet

We travel and work whilst being constantly vigilant

Constantly scanning for trouble

On the way to Camp Mercy

We went to pass two boys riding a motor bike

At the last moment we see the pillion rider had a rifle

The chrome glints in the sun

You freeze

For that split second the only utterance is a profanity

Then we realised that it was just a toy

Later whilst photographing the goat herder

A truck pulled up beside our parked car

Four men jumped out asking if we were American

One is holding a meat hook

They just wanted a photo with us

You go out expecting the worse

Yet the goodness of human nature prevails


- Brian Rogers

Topics:  lebanon refugees syria terrorism

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