For Syrian Refugees In These Portraits, An Empty Space For Every Loved One Lost

Photographed by Dario Mitidieri.
For seven years, the Syrian people have suffered under the weight of a civil war that evolved into a complex, vicious conflict. The war led to a widespread refugee crisis, and while the rest of the world seems to have fallen numb to the refugees' plight, the Syrian people still remember the loved ones they lost. And sometimes a way to do so is through a portrait's empty spaces.
Lost Family Portraits, by photojournalist Dario Mitidieri, shows Syrian refugee families alongside empty spaces representing the loved ones who have disappeared or died throughout the course of the war. CAFOD, the Catholic Church of England and Wales' aid agency, commissioned the project, and Mitidieri collaborated with the London-based creative agency M&C Saatchi to create the photo essay's concept.
Mitidieri traveled to refugee camps based in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon, where he interviewed several families. Some of them had just arrived to the camp, while others had been there for a while. But the common thread was that every single family had lost multiple people throughout the war, either because their loved ones disappeared, died, or the families were forced to leave them behind when they fled the country.
"In Lebanon alone, there's 1.3 million refugees. One-third of the population is refugees from Syria," Mitidieri says. "But no one is talking about it. It's not news anymore. They were left behind."
He adds, "They have been forgotten. And so the intent of this project is to give them a voice."
There are 65.6 million forcibly displaced people in the world, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. About 22.5 million are classified as refugees, 5.5 million of which come from Syria. As of now, it doesn't look like the conflict in Syria will end anytime soon, meaning thousands more will likely be displaced.
"This massive number of displaced people – the worst since the UN started keeping its numbers – is made up of individual people who are caught in unthinkable circumstances and who have been forced to make the impossible decision to leave their homes behind to seek safety for themselves and their loved ones," Noah Gottschalk, Oxfam America’s senior humanitarian policy advisor, said in a statement provided to Refinery29.
He added, "These new numbers underscore that the global community must immediately offer stronger lifelines to these vulnerable people as they flee for their lives, and also work together to tackle the root causes of the problem. While the number of refugees who desperately need our help remains unacceptably high, President Trump’s administration, and many in Congress, seek to slam the door shut on refugees."
For Mitidieri, Lost Family Portraits is a way to make people remember there are currently millions of Syrian refugees spread throughout the world. They are unable to go back to the place they call home, and at the same time, it's impossible for many of their loved ones to flee the horror.
He said the subjects he photographed and interviewed "came forward, willingly, despite the fact that they're still afraid." Among the things they fear is the safety of the family they left behind, who might be harmed by the militant groups in the country or the Syrian regime.
"But despite all these fears, they decided to come forward to tell the stories because they want their stories to be heard," he says. "They don't want to be forgotten."