Seeking shelter from Syria’s civil war

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Ivor Prickett photographed Syrians who have fled the civil war there

His photos remind us of their humanity and show how they are adapting to their new lives

CNN  — 

The Syrian conflict, now in its fifth year, has produced the largest refugee crisis in more than a quarter of a century, according to the United Nations.

With more than 4 million Syrians living in other countries such as Iraq, Lebanon and Turkey, the international community is still grappling with how to cope with a tragedy of this magnitude.

Ivor Prickett, a documentary photographer, has been following the mass exodus of Syrians who survived the destruction of their towns.

“It is mind-boggling in terms of its scale and magnitude,” he said.

“Seeking Shelter” is Prickett’s photographic amalgam of situations, places and events relating the Syrian diaspora – a quiet opportunity to share the lives of Syrian refugees.

“I am not a front-line photographer at all,” Prickett said. “I am much more interested in slow-paced reporting and photography and spending time with people as much as possible.”

Photographer Ivor Prickett

Spending a few years with people in Damascus before the war helped him understand the Syrian character.

“They are very open, friendly people,” he said, adding that his subjects were more than willing to allow their stories to be told.

He started in November 2012, after the Battle of Aleppo – coined “the Mother of All Battles” by Syrians – caused 200,000 people to flee in a few days.

A year later, Prickett made the journey with a family from Aleppo as they crossed the Tigris river into northern Iraq.

A photo of the family, seen first in the gallery above, captures many overwhelming emotions – terror, despair, uncertainty.

“Their sense of uncertainty was really palpable,” Prickett said. “(They) were lucky in the sense that they managed to reach that side of country and were allowed to enter northern Iraq, which the Kurds regard as their closest thing to a homeland. That said, they were incredibly tense and uncertain, having never been to Iraq before.”

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    With some knowledge of Arabic, Prickett got to know the people in his photos and listened to their stories.

    “Understanding what they’ve been through will help me make the right kind of picture,” he said. “And also the more time you spend with someone, the more you can kind of relate to them and allow them to relate to you … the more access they are going to give to you.”

    Prickett reminds us of their humanity by choosing moments of routine and intimacy to show how they are adapting to a new life away from home.

    And in moments of turmoil, which were often too many, he did not shy away from the camera.

    “When the siege of Kobani started, I was there right at the border working for the (U.N. refugee agency),” he said. “It was overwhelming … boiling-hot, and thousands and thousands of people were clogged up on side of the border fence with Turkey. …

    “It was a very desperate, apocalyptic situation that I never had seen on that scale before. Particularly shocking to see that in Turkey, where just around the corner you see beautiful beaches.

    “I’m not a hardened person nor emotionally detached in any way, so it is really, really hard to comprehend something on that scale.”

    Ivor Prickett is an Irish photographer represented by Panos. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.