Shrinking Spaces: The question of return to Syria

Category: Best visualization (small and large newsrooms)

Country/area: Italy

Organisation: Brush&Bow, France 24

Organisation size: Small

Publication date: 12 May 2019

Credit: David Leone Suber, Roshan De Stone, Hannah Kirmes-Daly

Project description:

Our work consists of an interactive multimedia feature piece looking at the issue of Syrian refugees impossible return to Syria. This work is the result of over two years of reporting and multimedia information gathering in Lebanon’s northern region of Akkar, 5km from the Syrian border, and in Berlin, working with refugee communities in northern Germany. Brush & Bow’s correspondents based in Lebanon lived in the Syrian camps, establishing a r in Lebanon and Germany, two of the countries hosting the greatest number of Syrian refugees in the world. Over the past two years, Brush & Bow correspondents have been

Impact reached:

In Lebanon, our work has involved collecting testimonies from displaced Syrian and Palestinian communities and their Lebanese hosts, starting the ‘Radio Hakaya’ program which was broadcasted in Arabic and English through Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and the UK by international and local radio stations. Brush&Bow members in Germany instead, were collecting information concerning the lives of Syrian refugees who have moved to Germany, their stories of migration and integration in Europe, and their opinions, fears and hopes of return to Syria. The project drove an intense and wide participation by a series of people without which not much of this project could have happened. It was truly a community work, run over a long period of time, but with a declared and stated aim from the beginning: tell the story of how and why is it so difficlut to imagine a return of the millions of Syrian refugees back to Syria in the forseable future.

The ultimate impact of the project is to create creative and informative material to inform an arabic and international audience about this issue, through the creation of a multimedia piece bringing together in a coherent, accessible and visually stimulating manner much of the information collected in these two years spent both living in Syrian refugee camps and witnessing the process of refugee integration in Germany. 

Techniques/technologies used:

Ours is a truly multimedia endevour, in which a variety of tools, techniques and technology were used to achieve the final project.

Brush & Bow’s principles of slow and participative journalism were key technical guidelines we followed and developed over two years in Syrian refugee camps, living and sharing life with the Syrian inhabitants of the camp, witnessing life and memory in an organic way. 

We used a great variety of tools to collect and give voice to stories less heard, those of individuals. We started by establishing a radio workshop in a tent of the refugee camp of Tel Abbas, running singing, storytelling and journalism workshops with adults and children, as well as a fully organised photography workshop with children that has since been exposed at the camp, in Beirut, Berlin and Glasgow. 

Through the podcast show ‘Radio Hakaya’ many of the key interviews were collected, always with the full consensus and collaboration of the interviewees. Our sound editors, content editors and translators were all people from the camp’s community.

Final materials include video interviews and audio recordings, a photography project run and developed with Syrian children from the camps of Tel Abbas, hand-drawn illustrations as well as written testimonies and official documents.

As techniques for the narration, we decided to use the scrolly-telling technique used by in long-feature first class journalism pieces, integrating photography and text with animation, illustration and audio, so as to enhance the reader’s experience when engaging with the complex information provided.

What was the hardest part of this project?

The hardest parts of the project were the consolidation of relevant information, together with the retreival, management and storage of great amounts of extremely sensitive data.

In Lebanon alone, Brush & Bow correspondents conducted 42 live, recorded and transcribed interviews, held over 50 workshops with adults and children alike, and produced the ‘Radio Hakaya’ whole podcast series, a photography course and exhibition, and a 7-piece article series for Al Araby al Jedeed, which later informed this project. Consolidating and filtering the relevant information out of this huge amount of material was itslef a work that took great time and effort, especially considering the very volatile situation on the ground.

Protecting the data in safe storage was key considering the great vulnerability of the interviewees and the risk of raids from both the Lebanese authorities and paramilitary groups in the camps. The material and information taken from the Akkar and Arsal areas in Lebanon, and from our trips to Homs in Syria, needed regular encryption, anonymyzation and safe transfer to our colleagues in Germany through regular updates.

Gaining the necessary confidence to do this work was also a real challenge. The three main collaborators working on this project had never worked with such a wide range of means in such a volatile environment. We had to learn how to constantly keep each other in check to avoid transfer of trauma, stress and burnout. 

Finally, the most difficult but rewarding part of this project was to test the real power of a slow, non-intrusive style of journalism, where a real relation is created between reporter and interviewee, based on trust. Despite surely not all material was collected from people we knew, some of the most in-depth stories were made accessible to us because of our developed connections with the local communities.


What can others learn from this project?

This piece aims to provide a unique insight into the lived situation on the ground, one which is further reinforced by the personal relationships forged with refugee communities we have lived and worked with in both Lebanon and Germany. 

As the war in Syria draws to an end, addressing the issue of refugee’s return is of growing importance for both Europe and Syria’s neighboring countries. Ours is a small but significant attempt to give space to Syrian voices to speak for themselves about their fears of return, shout out the rage for the destruction that has so far broken their lives, and voice the future hopes related to refugeehood abroad or return to a war-torn country.

We attempt to balance these voices by including opposite voices and opinions undiscriminatly, aiming for the readers to judge by themselves the relevance and strength of arguments made. Our reporting attempts to reflect the complexity of multiple realities, as in war no truth is alone.

Project links: