Life on the Syrian Border // Photographer Anders Birger describes experiencing the edge of conflict
Danish photographer and London College of Communication Alumni Anders Birger has travelled extensively in Syria since uprisings began there in 2011, documenting life in the now civil war-torn country.
Anders graduated from LCC’s MA Photojournalism & Documentary Photography course in 2011 and now runs our popular short course, Seeing the World – Documentary Photography. With a strong photojournalism background he focuses on documentary with a humanistic focus, brilliantly capturing stories, situations and lives on the edge of conflict.
Here, especially for LCC, he describes his first experience as a photographer on the Syrian/Turkish border where refugee camps have appeared since the conflict began. In July 2013, the UN stated that the number of Syrian refugees had exceeded 1.8 million.
The Dull Sound of Bombing //
At the border I meet a photojournalist. He’s rough looking, missing a few teeth and wearing bullet proof gear. He looks at my thin leather jacket and then my blue eyes.
“You don’t have any combat gear? Anything warmer than that?” He asks me with a British accent.
“Go with your gut-feeling mate, if you feel scared, turn away. And good luck!”
Right now I’m about to do exactly that. Just turn away and go back to where I came from. Someplace safe.
It’s a five kilometres walk through concrete and barbed wire from Turkey to Syria. Green grass grows on both sides of the road. There’s a mosque, a graveyard and then a few red signs warning trespassers of mines.
At the other end a big, newly printed banner welcomes me to a Free Syria. The empty frame from where Bashar al-Assad’s image used to greet visitors now hangs empty. Someone is yet to fill this gap.
The new bureaucrats are young. Laughingly they throw passports back and forth between the desks and I get my stamp. Right across the border a mini version of a village has been erected by the use of white plastic tents donated by charities. Roughly 6000 people live here.
First stop is the Free Syrian Army’s media centre. Six men hang around, watching European football on a flat-screen television. My passport as well as press card are photocopied, we have tea, they ask me a few questions, assign me a press officer and then we are off.
The camp is drenched. Even though there is only a limited number of tents for the many families, many of them stand empty due to flooding. It has been pouring for the last three days and today is the first with a bit of sun. All over clothes hang drying and small barriers of sand lie in front of each to try and keep some of the water out.
The refugees in this camp come mostly from the rural area around Aleppo. These people were not rich before the uprising and don’t have a passport. Without a passport there’s no access to Turkey. The kids are in sandals and their clothes are drenched. Smilingly they run after me and throw me the V-sign every time I raise the camera. This is hard.
A few hours later the sun begins to set. I decide to head back to Turkey, hoping that re-entry won’t be a problem. As the sun throws its last long shadows and the Turkish half moon shows in the distance, a deep rolling thunder sends me on my way. Even though I’ve never heard real bombs go off before, there’s no doubt in my mind. This is real. This is war…
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More of Ander’s photography: andersbirger.wordpress.com