Syrian refugees in the Highlands share their everyday moments with a camera

Syrian refugees who have settled in the Highlands have shared everyday moments of life in their adopted homeland.

Belal pictured by his wife, Rokaiah Aledlbi, at their home in Dingwall. Photograph © Rokaiah Aledlbi. All rights reserved.

Nine men and women have worked with photography collective Document Scotland to chronicle their new surrounds and home environments.

Those who took part included Belal, a father of four from Dingwall, who came to Scotland from Syria as part of UK Government’s refugee resettlement project.

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Photographs of residents of small Scottish island set for national collection
"My daughter at home". Photographed by Belal, one of the participants in the Highlighting Highlands project which worked with Syrian refugees who captured life in their new home in the north of Scotland. PIC: Belal/Document Scotland. The project was a joint initiative between Document Scotland and Highland Migrant and Refugee Advocacy and was supported by Creative Scotland and Street Level Photoworks. Photograph © the Photographer, all rights reserved.

One photograph shows him relaxing and smoking his shisha in the garden of his home as the sun goes down.

He said: “Through these photos we capture and preserve memories of our lives here in Scotland.

"The one where I am sitting in the garden with my shisha was taken after a very productive day where I managed to cut the grass, plant herbs, and finish off building the garden shed.”

In total, 23 of the most vulnerable Syrian families have been resettled by Highland Council in Inverness, Dingwall, Kinlochleven and Alness since 2015.

An image of a Highland sunset taken by Abdalrazaq, one of the participants in the project where Syrian refugees living in the north documented life in their new homeland. PIC: Abdalrazaq/Document Scotland.

A further 25 refugees were welcomed under the new Global Refugee Resettlement Programme last year.

Dr Clare Daly of Highland Migrant & Refugee Advocacy (HiMRA) said the project had allowed Syrians to connect again over lockdown.

Dr Daly added: "Lockdown had been difficult and disruptive for the families, as it had been for everyone. Syrians are extremely sociable, they come together, they love sharing food and time together. They really enjoyed taking part in the project and being able to share their photographs.”

She said that the process of families settling and adapting to their new life was a "long and complex one”.

Dr Daly added: “On the whole the families have settled very well. There are pockets of resistance, but on the whole the communities are welcoming.”

Dr Daly said that, overall, the refugees felt safe in the Highlands but that culturally there were few familiar touchstones.

She said: “Feeling safe is so key to how people feel about where they live. The downside is that there is not enough choice in terms of things like food, restaurants and not as many resources in the Highlands.”

Colin McPherson, co-founder of Document Scotland, said the Highlighting the Highlands project, which was funded by Creative Scotland, was done in February and March during a challenging period of the pandemic.

He said: “The brief was very open and we were looking for a response to how they were living at the time.

“The people we worked with were really positive about the Highlands. Just looking at the images, you see a real warmth and connection.

“There are challenges, of course. The Highlands is not free from racism and hostility exists in Scotland. We would like to think by doing this project, we can challenge our own people who have prejudices. We believe that photography is a way of breaking down barriers. Scotland is increasingly diverse and we want to reflect that and document the changes that are happening in Scotland.

A selection of photographs from the project with be shown online at a special event next week, which will also feature relevant work from Document Scotland founders Jeremy Hibbert-Smith and Sophie Gerrard.

To attend the free event on Tuesday, May 25 at 7pm, email [email protected]

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