The Middle Eastern Refugee Quilts


Hard at work: Making squares at the Hope Workshop

The two quilts profiled in these pages are the product of the worst humanitarian crisis since World War 2. The embroidered squares were produced by twelve women in Jordan who were exposed to the full fury of war in Iraq, Syria and Palestine before deciding to seek refuge abroad. They brought with them memories of lost friends, destroyed homes and broken lives.

This quilting project has allowed the women to describe this grim experience through embroidery, and in the process build deep friendships. The result is a powerful testament to the horror or war, but also the resilience of refugees.

The quilting initiative was launched in early 2016 when The Advocacy Project formed a partnership with the Collateral Repair Project in Amman. CRP’s distinctive name is a rebuke to the fact that civilian casualties in war are often dismissed as “collateral damage,” and during several years of dedicated service CRP staff and volunteers in Amman have distributed relief supplies to thousands of refugees from conflict. The supplies include coats and fuel in the winter, fans in the summer, and food during Ramadan. CRP has also provided skills training for refugees, who are not allowed to work in the formal sector in Jordan.

Several of CRP’s beneficiaries have formed a cooperative, the Hope Workshop, to produce embroidery and other handicrafts and in 2016 AP deployed an experienced Peace Fellow, Allyson Hawkins from the Fletcher School at Tufts University, to volunteer at the Workshop. We suggested that Workshop members could use embroidery to describe their journey from war and twelve responded. They formed a project team under the guidance of Shatha, who managed the Workshop at the time.


Quilters from the Sea lay out squares for the two quilts in Middletown, Rhode Island

Allyson described the process in her blogs, which make for a lively read. In one early blog she confessed that she felt unqualified to help, given that she did not have “an artistic bone in her body.” But the artists welcomed her advice and she was delighted to see how completely the Workshop members embraced the concept of advocacy quilting.

As in past quilt projects, AP did not suggest themes – that was left to the artists. The Hope Workshop artists decided to depict the horror and violence of the Middle East wars, particularly Syria. Their squares show bombs falling on playgrounds, homes destroyed, and boats that are crowded with refugees. The fact that this is all portrayed though exquisite craftsmanship makes it more poignant. Allyson’s blogs also make it clear that the project was collaborative and brought the artists together, particularly in the earlier stages. This is another benefit from advocacy quilting.

Allyson brought the squares back to the US in August 2016. They were then sent to a group of experienced quilters in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, who work within a guild (Quilters by the Sea). AP Board member Larry Ingeneri generously covered the cost of material. The quilters met at Larry’s home to decide on a design and assign the squares, and then then met regularly to produce two quilts. This was done by putting strips of fabric (known as sashing) around each bloc and attaching the blocks to backing. The two quilts were then sent to Allison Wilbur, a long-term AP partner and founder of Quilt for Change, to quilt within the squares and add more backing. Allison’s subtle patterns bring out the designs beautifully – some even seem to be floating.


Ruth Sears, left, led the team that assembled the two quilts; Allyson Wilbur completed the quilting

As in past quilt projects, the American quilters learned a great deal from working on this powerful material and we have captured some of their reactions in a short video. Ruth Sears, who led the quilting, sent a heartfelt note when it was over: “Thank you for this opportunity from my group of quilters, especially me. We were honored to find a way to highlight the beautiful work of these women. Each time we worked the conversation turned to their situation. Many thoughts and hopes of support for them.”

AP and CRP will now turn to exhibiting the quilts and advancing their message. Sadly, the timing could not be more appropriate and we are offering the quilts to refugee support groups, particularly on university campuses, who are seeking to better understand what it means to be a refugee. These pages are made to help. Allyson, our Peace Fellow, wrote the profiles and took the photos. Her complete set of photos can be found on the CRP Flickr library. We have used the first names and photos of the artists with their permission.

At some stage CRP and AP may offer one of these quilts for sale, and we will probably commission more embroidery from the Hope Workshop this summer. But for now our priority is to use this artwork to tell the story of what it means to be a refugee, and remind us all of the courage and skills that refugees bring to their new countries. The quilts are available to any advocate who shares our vision, particularly at universities. Contact us though the Collateral Repair Project or through AP.


The women profiled on this page are refugees from brutal war in Iraq, Syria and Palestine. During the summer of 2016, they chose to tell their harrowing story through 25 embroidered squares which have been assembled into two quilts by quilters in the US and are now being exhibited in the US. On this page we present profiles of the artists. Their squares are described on the following two pages. The profiles were written by Allyson Hawkins, who served as a Peace Fellow at The Collateral Repair Project in 2016.


“I remember the tombstones in Iraq”

Suzanne came with her family to Jordan from Baghad in June 2015. Her daughter is sick, and Suzanne wanted to get her involved in some art-related activities, which she found at the Hope Workshop. Suzanne says before she joined the Workshop she was always home alone. She wanted something to do with her time and the Workshop has allowed her to be productive and use her embroidery skills. Embroidery also helps her to express her feelings. She has made many friends at the Workshop and treasures these new friendships.

Suzanne’s first piece shows her daughter in a field picking wild flowers in Iraq, something that she loved to do before the war began. But there is a plane overhead and the loud noise scared the child. She still cries when she hears the sound of planes.

Suzanne lost many family members, friends, and neighbors in the war and her second square recalls her home in Iraq. When she thinks of Iraq she remembers the nearby cemetery. The tombstones loom over her idyllic house.

Suzanne says that spending time with other women refugees, learning new skills, and being a member of the Hope collective gives her hope. She also wants her kids to be involved in the community and learn new skills like English, Arabic, and Math, particularly as they cannot attend school in Jordan.


“I studied engineering in Iraq and miss my tools”

Roa’a came from Baghdad to Jordan with her father, mother, and two sisters in May of 2013. Her mother, Dhamya, was attending Hope Workshop meetings and when Roa’a heard about the embroidery project, she decided to join in. “I didn’t know how to do embroidery,” she says, “but I knew I could learn.”

Roa’a says that she has always been very shy but has gained confidence working on this project. “I became a leader and now I can help other women in the group to become leaders,” she says.

Roa’a’s first square shows a woman surrounded by several other figures that represent society, culture, and religion, and the different types of pressure that they place on women. Roa’a says that women are not permitted to express their true feelings. She wanted to highlight this struggle, which is particularly acute for refugees in a new country and culture.

Her second square shows Roa’a thinking about her engineering tools. Roa’a was studying engineering in Iraq when her family left and she had to say goodbye to her education. She thinks about this missed opportunity a lot because she is unable to pursue a university education in Jordan. Roa’a and her family are waiting to be re-settled in Australia where she hopes to complete her engineering studies.

After learning embroidery, Roa’a hopes to master crochet and get more involved at the CRP community center through training. She feels more hope for the future, and can see herself accomplishing many things. This comes from inside, but she is happy to have found an environment in the Hope Workshop that will build her confidence and teach new skills.


“I am proud of my faith. It has supported me as a refugee”

Dhamya came with her family to Jordan from Bagdhad in 2013. She remembers feeling afraid when she arrived. “It was a new society. Dealing with people was challenging,” she says. She heard about CRP from neighbors and began coming for English classes. She became more and more involved in CRP activities, first with gender training and then with Hope Workshop. “I started to love myself,” she says. She wanted to meet new people from different backgrounds and learn about different cultures.

When she first joined the Workshop, Dhamya only knew embroidery. She has since learned how to crochet and makes scarves and hats, which brings in a little income and relieves her stress. She has even persuaded her daughter to join.

Dhamya’s squares are a form of self-expression, with each color representing a different emotion. Her first square shows her praying to the cross. Dhamya and her family are Sabians, a small Christian sect primarily concentrated around Baghdad that has been particularly affected by violence since the 2003 Invasion. The yellow in her square represents hope. The X across Iraq signifies the destruction of her country. And yet, although Iraq might fall, Dhamya is sure her faith will survive. It has supported through her experience as a refugee in Jordan.

Dhamya’s second square depicts “a woman looking for freedom.” The woman’s legs are stitched together, and she cannot walk. Her hands are also shackled to show that she is powerless. The wings represent her desire for freedom. Dhamya’s dream is to travel, “but the wings won’t carry me anywhere despite the new strength I’ve found.”

Dhamya says that pressure on the outside can give you energy inside, and that the Hope Workshop offers her an outlet for her energy. Since joining the workshop, she says, she has also learned to become a better communicator. This makes family relationships (which are under a lot of stress due to their status as refugees) much easier. In site of this, Dhamya still fears for her family’s well being. She hopes to be re-settled with her family in Australia.


“The intruders wore black and I could only see their eyes”

Wa’ad arrived in Jordan on January 1, 2015 from Baghdad, two days after her birthday. Her friends connected her with CRP, and after meeting Shatha, the coordinator of the Hope Workshop, she decided she wanted to learn new skills. Since becoming a Workshop member, Wa’ad says that she has felt a revival of hope that she has not felt for a long time. She has made many friends and feels empowered to be a part of the group.

Wa’ad has strong memories of Iraq and these come out in her designs. Her first image depicts an “accident” that happened to her one night when militiamen entered her home and beat her. The intruders wore black and she could only see their eyes. She lived alone in Bagdhad. After this frightening incident she decided to leave home and seek a new life in Amman.

Wa’ad’s second square shows the home she left behind in Bagdhad. She owned her house, which was large and had a beautiful garden, and she was very proud to live there. Cutting across the image of her house is a fence which represents the border between Iraq in Jordan. On the far side of the fence Wa’ad has stitched a tent, depicting the temporary house that she rents in Amman.

Despite the many difficulties, Wa’ad has hope for the future. She enjoys life from moment to moment. Many of her happiest memories of Jordan come from the friendships that she has made at the Hope Workshop and CRP.


“We left behind death, blood and danger in Iraq”

Salima came to Jordan with her four sons from Baghdad in 2014. They were all scared, she says. Salima rented a small apartment in Hashemi Shemali, where she heard from neighbors about CRP. After some encouragement from Shatha, the coordinator of the Hope Workshop, Salima joined. She has been a valuable member ever since. “I love art,” Salima explains.

Her brother, an artist, taught her many different skills over the years and she now uses them in the Hope Workshop. Having the space to be creative and productive helps Salima fill her time. Before then she would stay home and kept busy through cooking and cleaning. Now, through the Hope Workshop, her time passes more quickly and she produces beautiful work to sell.

Her first design shows a burnt and broken Iraq, with people fleeing from the danger. Above it her children sit in a peaceful garden next to a map of Jordan surrounded by birds beneath the sun. Salima is contrasting the danger that forced her family to leave Iraq with the happiness, hope, and safety they feel in Jordan.

Salima’s second image shows refugees crossing a border as they leave Iraq and head towards the sun. Below the refugees she has stitched three words that describe the horror they are fleeing – “death, blood, danger.” In front of the refugees, and between the sunbeams, Salima has stitched the three things they hope to find – “hope, safety, freedom.”

Salima’s knowledge of art, and her passion to create, represent huge assets for the Hope Workshop. Her enthusiasm shines through in her work, undiminished by the challenges she has faced.


“I had to leave my sister behind”

Ikhlas arrived in Jordan, alone, after an incredible journey. She was living in Ramadi, Anbar province, Iraq, when militants entered her town and killed her cousin. Ikhlas and her neighbors were rounded up and taken to a large building but Ikhlas and her sister managed to escape. They were picked up by a kind stranger in a van who took them out to the desert, from where they made their way to Baghdad.

Ikhlas had been keeping her passport safe at a friend’s house in Bagdhad and as soon as they arrived she collected the passport and made arrangements to leave Iraq. But her sister had left her passport behind in Ramadi and was too afraid to return back. Ikhlas made the tough decision to leave Iraq without her sister, who still remains in Baghdad.

After she arrived, Ikhlas heard good things about the CRP community center from her neighbors, and decided to start taking English classes. She also attended a women’s leadership training, which encouraged her to join the Hope Workshop. “I like everything about the Workshop – particularly the way it has helped me to become more professional in communicating with others.” She enjoys interacting with people from different countries and cultures and is always busy with a project or activity. “I don’t feel lonely anymore.”

Ikhlas’s first square shows a map of Iraq with a plane above it. “I’m on the plane,” she explains. “I’m saying goodbye to family members, including my sister, who I had to leave behind.” Her second square shows Ikhlas and her sister embracing in the garden of her sister’s house in Ramadi, where they once lived. “I still talk to my sister everyday,” says Ikhlas. “But it is not the same as having her here.”

Ikhlas says that “everything positive in my life comes from CRP,” and she spends her time at the center trying to forget her problems. But she still wants to travel far away so that she can feel completely safe.


“After the bombing, I saw I was in immediate danger”

Amal traveled to Jordan from Dara’a, Syria in April 2012 with with her mother and sister. Her husband and children had left earlier and she had hoped to follow them, but the violence in Dara’a prevented them from traveling. As a result, Amal was separated from her husband and children for two years.

When the three women finally attempted their journey to Jordan, her mother and sister were denied entry due to incorrect paperwork. Amal continued her journey alone, hoping to be reunited with her children.

Amal has always loved handicrafts, and decided to join when she heard of the Hope Workshop. Since becoming a member, Amal has become stronger, gained confidence and learned cooperation skills.

Amal’s first design shows her house in flames in Dara’a. Amal and her brother were at home one day when a plane flew overhead and dropped bombs, destroying her home and injuring her brother. Amal realized she was in immediate danger and decided to leave. Her family has moved to nearby village which seems less exposed.

Amal’s house used to look down over a playground and her second square recalls a truly traumatic incident when a plane flew over and dropped bombs on the playground, killing all the kids. A beautiful view she once enjoyed is now a terrible memory.

Amal’s name means hope in Arabic and she says that this precisely what she now feels. CRP is the only group that has given her assistance and made her feel she has a future. She is overjoyed to be a part of such a generous and tightly knit community.


“Some people have drowned while trying to escape”

Soltana’s family came to Jordan after the 1967 War. Her roots are in Yaffa and Gaza. She feels sad that the Palestinians who live in Gaza today are trapped and do not have the same opportunity to flee danger.

Soltana learned about CRP through her neighbors. As a Palestinian refugee living in Amman, Soltana decided to get involved. She wanted to meet other women from Iraq and Syria who have gone through a similar experience and she thought that the Workshop would be a great outlet for building new friendships. “They’ve experienced the same misery as the Palestinians,” she says.

Before the Workshop, Soltana was shy. She now loves meeting new people: “I have become more outgoing and confident. I can express my feelings better.”

Soltana’s first square shows people fleeing Gaza by sea. Some people have drowned trying to escape. Others are unable to leave and remain in danger, like the man in a wheelchair. Her second square shows people fleeing from the war in Gaza. They have left their homes for tents in the desert. The women are carrying their belongings on top of their heads.

The Hope Workshop allows Soltana to share these and other stories with her new friends from Syria and Iraq. These cross-cultural friendships give her hope for a brighter future.


Fakhriaya_
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“We heard terrifying stories of refugees drowning and of crime”

Fakhriaya arrived in Jordan in February 2015 with her daughter, Aftab. Aftab was standing outside the CRP community center when she overheard a conversation between Shatha, the Hope Workshop coordinator, and a group of women. Aftab was interested, and thought her mother would be too. She brought Fakhriaya to a Hope Workshop meeting. The two have been members ever since.

Fakhriaya used to make embroidered dresses for her daughter when they lived in Baghdad. “I love embroidery. It feels good to pick up old hobbies in a new place,” she says. She was in a bad way when she arrived in Jordan and recalls that “during the war in Iraq, there was no milk, no bread, our beds were on the floor.” But now she is self-reliant and can support her daughter.

Fakhriaya’s first square shows refugees who are attempting to reach Turkey by sea. After arriving to Jordan, Fakhriaya had hoped to find a smuggler who would take her and her daughter to Turkey but she began to read terrifying stories of failed crossing attempts, high drowning rates and crime along the way. She was deeply affected and decided to remain and make a start fresh in Amman.

Fakriaya’s second design is more abstract. It depicts the flight of Sabians, a small Christian sect, out of Iraq. The roots represent her Sabian religion, which once flourished in Iraq, while each branch represents a place where Sabian refugees hope to live – Jordan, the United State and Australia. Whole families leave for one country and then branch out and become further separated, as represented by the small twigs at the end of each branch. The number of Sabians in Iraq has fallen sharply because so many have fled from the country Fakhriaya once called home.

Being in Jordan gives Fakhriaya hope. “Here, we live in peace,” she says. She is no longer afraid for herself and her daughter.


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“I have an engineering degree but cannot use it in Jordan”

Aftab came to Jordan from Iraq with her mother Fakhriaya in 2015 and discovered the Hope Workshop after overhearing a conversation between Shatha, the Workshop coordinator and a group of women. She was looking for company and did not want to remain at home, so she signed up.“ I like to talk a lot and working together with others has helped me become a better listener and communicator,” she says.

Since joining the Workshop Aftab has learned about cooperation and making handicrafts. She is particularly talented at embroidery and her first design shows a tent made from an Iraqi flag. She chose this design because it depicts the reality for the many Iraqis who are refugees. Aftab explains that the people of Iraq are looking for peace, but are unable to find it in their homeland.

Aftab’s second square shows a woman traveling with a bag. A plane is flying overhead. The woman is Aftab and she wants to travel west to find work. Aftab completed an engineering degree in Iraq, but is unable to put it to use in Jordan. She wants to work and to be able to support her family.

It gives Aftab hope to meet new people and build new relationships at CRP. She is encouraged when she sees people smile, and has a strong sense of belonging. She also feels less lonely.


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“Childhood in Iraq is dead”

Ikhlas came to Jordan from Baghdad with her father and sister in June 2015. Once in Amman, she reunited with sister who had already settled in Jordan and put her in touch with CRP.

The first day Ikhlas came to the center, she met Shatha, the Hope Workshop coordinator, and felt immediately comfortable talking with her. “The stress of being a refugee melted away. When I’m at CRP I feel comfortable.”

Ikhlas is an enthusiastic participant in all the CRP activities. She loves handicrafts, and particularly enjoyed the embroidery project because it draws on real life. “It’s a chance to share our experiences with others,” she says.

Ikhlas was a lawyer in Iraq. She loves her profession, and says the Hope Workshop gives all the women the opportunity to talk about their old lives, their professions, and their studies in a safe and encouraging way. A passionate defender of human rights, Ikhlas says that the protection afforded to Iraqi citizens by law “only exists on paper” and does not translate to real life.

This is particularly true for children. Ikhlas’s first design shows a book of children’s rights covered in blood with a child’s shoe on its top. “Children in Iraq have legal rights,” she says. But “the world forces them into adulthood. Childhood in Iraq is dead.”

Ikhlas’ second picture shows a dove of peace that is barred from flying by a black wall. The dove represents human rights and the wall represents the lack of humanity in Iraq.

Since coming to Jordan Ikhlas has felt safe, happy, and full of hope. Here she can live in peace and leave her home without fear. Still, she says, “Jordan is a station – a stop on my way to another country.”


“A piece of my heart is still in Syria”

Nafiza has asked that we do not show her face, so we show her hands at work on her embroidery.

Before Nafiza came to Jordan in August 2012 she had lived a peaceful life in the countryside outside Damascus with her family. They had to flee when the area became too dangerous.

They traveled to Irbid first but her husband was unable to find work. They then moved to Sahab, where her husband found modest work in a mattress factory. However, he became sick and could no longer work. It was then that they made the move to Amman, hoping to better support the family.

In Amman, they reunited with a friend they had known in Syria who now worked at CRP. He connected Nafiza to the CRP community center where she learned about the Hope Workshop. Nafiza brought some of her previous embroidery and crochet work with her to a Workshop meeting and was immediately welcomed as a new member. She has attended several gender trainings and become very interested in gender and relationships.

Nafiza’s first picture is of a dove. She says the dove represents the promises of Bashar al-Assad, who told the people he would build peace in Syria but brought bombs not peace. The branch carries the letters TNT. Nafiza’s second square  depicts Syria and Jordan. Her heart is stretched across both countries, because she left many family members and friends behind and her thoughts are still with them. A big piece of her heart remains in Syria.

Nafiza’s family has a different status from the families of the other women because her husband has Jordanian as well as Syrian nationality. But Nafiza is the only member of her immediate family who is registered with UNHCR. This adds to her sense of being stuck between Syria and Jordan.

Before joining Hope Workshop, Nafiza said she felt “helpless and weak.” But now, participating in the activities with other women has made her feel stronger. She fervently hopes that her family can become more integrated and forget the heartache they experienced in Syria.


Quilt 1

Assad Brought Bombs, Not Peace: This design, by Nafiza, argues that many refugees feel betrayed by Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad who told his people that he would build peace in Syria. The square shows a dove carrying a branch. Instead of peace the dove is bringing war: bombs hang from the branch of a tree and carry the letters “TNT.”


Remembering the Sister I Left Behind: In this square Ikhlas remembers her sister, who was unable to leave with Ikhlas from Ramadi, Iraq, when she fled for Jordan. The picture shows Ikhlas and her sister embracing in the garden of his sister’s house, underscoring the closeness of their relationship and the loss that Ikhlas feels at having left family members behind. “I still talk to my sister everyday,” she says. “But it’s not the same as having her here.”


They Came For Me at Night: This design, by Wa’ad, recalls a terrifying event that happened in Iraq in 2015. Wa’ad lived alone in Baghdad and one night militiamen came to her house and beat her. They all wore all black, and she could only see their eyes. Wa’ad left for Jordan soon afterwards, on January 1, 2015, two days after her birthday.


Remembering Friends Who Died in Iraq: Suzanne’s square commemorates the many friends and neighbors she lost in Iraq before she decided to seek refugee and safety in Jordan. Some of her friends are buried in the nearby cemetery, which is pictured here with the tombstones looming over Suzanne’s house and garden.


Frightened by the Planes: Suzanne lived in Baghdad before fleeing to Jordan in June 2015. One of her strongest memories is of her daughter picking wild flowers in a field before the war. Then the planes began to come and Suzanne’s daughter took fright at the loud noise. The child still cries when she hears the sound of planes overhead.


Women Fleeing from Gaza: Soltana’s roots are in Yaffa and Gaza, Palestine and her family came to Jordan after the 1967 War. Nowadays the people of Gaza are trapped and unable to escape, says Soltana. Her picture shows families trying to leave the fighting in Gaza for tents in the desert. Women carry their belongings on their heads.


Destroyed by Planes: In this picture, Amal remembers the day that her house in Dara’a, Syria, was bombed and destroyed by planes in April 2012. Amal and her brother were at home when it happened, and her brother was seriously injured. The attacked convinced Amal that it was time to leave for Jordan. The other members of her family, who lived nearby at the time of the attack, have all moved to a safer village. 


Refugees Flee by Boat: Fakhriaya’s design shows refugees trying to get to Turkey by boat. When Fakhriaya left Iraq she had planned to find a smuggler to take her and her daughter to Turkey. But then she began hearing frightening stories about failed crossing attempts, drownings and crime along the route. This convinced her to remain in Jordan and start a new life in Amman. She has great sympathy for families that have lost their lives at sea.


So Sad – Two Words Sum It All Up: The artist of this square chose to remain anonymous. Her square shows a young refugee thinking back to his time in Iraq and carries the poignant message – “So Sad!”


Saying Goodbye to My Family: Ikhlas fled on her own from Ramadi, in Anbar province, Iraq to Jordan. In this square she remembers leaving her family. The square shows a map of Iraq with a plane above. Ikhlas is on the plane saying goodbye to family members, including her sister, who she left behind in Iraq.


My Life Before and After: Wa’ad’s picture draws a contrast between her happy life back in Iraq and her life as a refugee in Jordan. It shows the house she left behind in Baghdad, with its beautiful garden. Cutting through this image is a fence, which represents the border between Iraq and Jordan. On the lower side a tent symbolizes the temporary house that Wa’ad rents in Amman.


Women Refugees Under Pressure: This design by Roa’a shows a woman surrounded by several other figures who represent society, culture, and religion, and the different types of pressure that these institutions exert over women’s lives. Roa’a says women constantly feel the eyes of others on them but are often not permitted to express their true feelings and thoughts because of this pressure. She wanted to highlight this struggle, which is particularly acute for refugees in a new country and culture.


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The Dove of Peace Has No Place in Iraq: This design by Ikhlas shows a dove of peace that is blocked and broken by a black wall. The dove represents human rights and the wall represents the lack of humanity in Iraq. Injustice and violence prevent the dove from doing its work, says Ikhlas.


What I Miss About Home – Baking Bread: This square was made by an artist from the Home Workshop who has withheld her name. She is remembering the way she used to bake bread in a traditional oven – one of the things she misses most about her old home in Syria, before she became a refugee.


On the Road to Hope: Salima’s image shows a road out of Iraq. Refugees are leaving through a border crossing and heading towards the sun. Below the refugees Salima has stitched words that sum up the horrors that they are fleeing from: “Death, blood, and danger.” In front of the refugees, and between the sunbeams, Salima has stitched their goals: “Hope, safety, freedom.” 


Childhood in Iraq is Dead: Ikhlas is a passionate defender of human rights, and she complains that protections afforded to Iraqis by law “exist only on paper and do not translate into real life.” This is particularly true for children. Her design shows a book of children’s rights, covered in blood. The shoe of a child is left behind on top of the book. “Children in Iraq have legal rights,” Ikhlas says, but “the world forces them into adulthood. Childhood in Iraq is dead.” Many kids are on the streets instead of in schools, and they are being exploited at work because their families depend on them to supplement the family income.


In Hope of a Better Future: In this design, Aftab imagines herself packed and ready to leave. The plane overhead symbolizes her desire to travel west and find opportunities for work. In Iraq, Aftab completed an engineering degree, but she is unable to put it to use in Jordan. Aftab desperately hopes to get a job in her field one day and support her family. 


They Even Bomb the Playgrounds: The artist who made this square, Amal, used to live near a playground in Baghdad before she left for Jordan. Amal was watching the children at play one day when a plane flew overhead and dropped bombs on the playground. All of the children on the playground were killed. For Amal, a beautiful view became a terrible memory.


Religion Carries Me As a Refugee: Dhamya’s pictures are an important form of self-expression and the colors represent different emotions. This square shows her praying to the cross. Dhamya and her family are Sabians, a small Christian sect primarily concentrated around Baghdad, who have been particularly vulnerable to violence since the 2003 Invasion. The yellow in her picture represents hope, while the X that runs across Iraq represents the destruction of her country. Iraq might fall, she says, but her faith will survive. Dhamya is very proud of her faith, which has given her strength during her time as a refugee in Jordan.


We are Happy to Have Escaped the Danger: Salima’s design shows a burnt and broken Iraq, with people fleeing from the danger. At the top left Selima has stitched a map of Jordan. Her children sit beside the map in a peaceful garden surrounded by birds beneath the sun. At the bottom, refugees are fleeing the violence in Iraq. Selima is seeking to contrast the danger they left behind in Iraq with the happiness, hope, and safety they feel in Jordan.


I Left My Heart in Syria: Nafiza lived peacefully in the countryside outside Damascus before she left for Jordan in 2012 and her square shows that she has not forgotten her home country. It depicts the countries of Syria and Jordan. Nafiza’s heart is stretched across both, although more than half is still in Syria. Nafiza left many family members and friends behind. While she is physically safe in Jordan, her heart, mind, and emotions remain in Syria with the family, friends, and land that she left behind.


Trapped in Gaza: Soltana’s family came from Palestine to Jordan after the 1967 War but she is well aware that Palestinians who live in Gaza today are trapped and do not have the opportunity to flee from danger. Soltana’s image shows people fleeing Gaza by sea. Some people, she explains, have drowned trying to escape. Others, such as the man seen in a wheelchair, are unable to leave and have to remain in danger.


The Fragmentation of a Religion: This square by Fakhriaya depicts the flight of Sabians, a small Christian sect, from Iraq. The roots represent the religion, which once flourished in Iraq. But Sabians have left Iraq in large numbers and each branch of the tree represents a different destination: Jordan, the United States, Australia. Whole families leave for one country then branch out and become further separated, as shown by the small twigs at the end of each branch. Meanwhile fewer and fewer Sabians live in Iraq itself.


Refugees Have Useful Skills! Roa’a’s design shows Roa’a thinking about the engineering tools that she left behind in Iraq. Roa’a was studying engineering in Iraq when her family decided to leave, and Roa’a had to leave her education behind. She thinks about this missed opportunity a lot because in Jordan she is unable to pursue a university education. Roa’a and her family are waiting to be re-settled in Australia where she hopes to be able to complete her engineering studies.


Thinking of Home in Iraq, by unknown artist.


I Yearn To Fly but My Wings Won’t Carry Me: Dhamya’s design shows “a woman seeking freedom.” She explains that the woman’s legs are stitched together, so she cannot walk. The woman’s hands are also shackled together, to show that she is powerless to help herself. The woman’s wings represent her yearning for freedom. Dhamya also dreams of traveling but “my wings won’t carry me anywhere despite the strength I’ve found.”


The Home of the Refugee – a Tent: Aftab came to Jordan from Iraq with her mother in 2015. Her design shows a tent made from an Iraqi flag. For Aftab, the tent symbolizes the reality for many Iraqi refugees. Inside the tent is a map of Iraq. Aftab says that the people of Iraq are looking for peace, but are unable to find it in their homeland. 


AP on Flickr

A photo on Flickr
A photo on Flickr
A photo on Flickr
A photo on Flickr
A photo on Flickr
A photo on Flickr