Invisible Children

© Rania Matar

We have been hearing on the news about the plights of the Syrian refugees and about the huge refugee influx to neighboring countries, including Lebanon.

Lebanon is a country of about 4 million people and there are now over 1.5 million Syrian refugees. Straddled by a weak economy, and domestic political tensions, Lebanon is finding it hard to cope with the large influx of refugees inside its borders. Their presence is creating increased internal tension and divisions within the already fragile country, making the humanitarian crisis an even more difficult one to resolve.

However, when I was in Beirut this past year, I was poignantly struck by the Syrian refugee children and teens standing at every other street corner, most often begging for money, sometimes selling red roses or miscellaneous trinkets, or carrying beat-up shoe-shining equipment. They all said they were working. They were being brought by the truckload every morning, dropped off on the streets and expected to bring money back every day. People often walked or drove by them seemingly indifferent or just fed-up by what the influx of refugees has done to the country’s economy and resources and by what the city has become with kids begging in most cosmopolitan areas of Beirut.

However, as a mother, I was truly moved by the children, the teenagers and the young mothers begging on the streets, and struck by the fact that they had become almost faceless and invisible to the locals. Those kids and teens seemed to blend with the graffiti on the walls in front of which they were standing, just like an added new layer of ripped billboard advertising, as invisible and as anonymous. Being perceived by people and on the news as "the refugees” the group identity seemed to define them more than their individual identity. Maybe by keeping them individually anonymous, one can more easily ignore the magnitude of the refugee crisis.

I tried through my images to put an individual face to the invisible children, to give them their dignity and portray their individuality. 

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