They Leave Their Lives Behind. Here’s What They Take In Their Bags.

The global refugee crisis has within the last several weeks been making international headlines, with some of the stories horrifying to say the least. But I came across one that was too interesting not to share. It focuses on a question that perhaps few of us have asked: “What’s in the bag?” If your house was bombed, your children starved and you were forced to flee, what would you take with you, through the difficult journey across rough terrain and stormy seas that was to come? What would you first throw? And what would you cling on to till the very end? The International Rescue Committee (IRC) has long worked with issues of migration and relocating people from troubled lands. It’s from within that organization that a photographer took on a very innovative project: looking into what refugees actually take with them when they flee their war-torn, troubled lands. Here’s a peak into the belongings 6 different characters brought along on their journeys towards hope and a brighter future.

A mother

Name: Aboessa*
Age: 20
From: Damascus, Syria


In the bag:
Hat for the baby
An assortment of medication, a bottle of sterile water, and a jar of baby food
A small supply of napkins for diaper changes
A hat and a pair of socks for the baby
Assortment of pain relievers, sunscreen and sunburn ointment, toothpaste
Personal documents (including the baby’s vaccination history)
Wallet (with photo ID and money)
Cell phone charger
Yellow headband


“Everything is for my daughter to protect her against sickness. When we arrived in Greece, a kind man gave me two jars of food. Another man gave us biscuits and water when he saw my baby,” said Aboessa.

A child

Name: Omran*
Age: 6
From: Damascus, Syria


In the bag:
1 pair of pants, 1 shirt
A syringe for emergencies
Marshmallows and sweet cream (Omran’s favorite snacks)
Soap, toothbrush and toothpaste


A teenager


In the bag:
1 pair of pants, 1 shirt, 1 pair of shoes and 1 pair of socks
Shampoo and hair gel, toothbrush and toothpaste, face whitening cream
Comb, nail clipper
100 U.S. dollars
130 Turkish liras
Smart phone and back-up cell phone
SIM cards for Afghanistan, Iran and Turkey


“I want my skin to be white and hair to be spiked — I don’t want them to know I’m a refugee. I think that someone will spot me and call the police because I’m illegal.”

A family

From: Aleppo, Syria


In the bag:
1 shirt, 1 pair of jeans,
1 pair of shoes
1 diaper, 2 small cartons of milk and some biscuits
Personal documents and money
Sanitary pads
A comb


A pharmacist

Namn: Anonymous
Age: 34
From: Syria


In the bag:
Money (wrapped to protect it from water)
Old phone (wet and unusable) and new smart phone
Phone chargers and headphones (plus extra battery charger)
16GB flash drive (containing family photos)


“We didn’t realize it was the police. We were told by friends not to stop because they will take you back to Turkey. We didn’t know the Greek language. We couldn’t understand what they were saying. We held the children. I thought to myself, ‘Let me reach the beach and anything you say I will do.’”

An artist

Name: Nour*
Age: 20
From: Syria


In the bag:
Small bag of personal documents
A rosary (gift from his friend; Nour doesn’t let it touch the floor)
A watch (from his girlfriend; it broke during the journey)
Syrian flag, Palestinian charm, silver and wooden bracelets (gifts from friends)
Guitar picks (one also a gift from a friend)
Cell phone and Syrian SIM card
Photo ID
1 shirt


*Last names omitted to protect the privacy of those interviewed

This material was published with courteous permission from The International Rescue Committee.

Photos by Tyler Jump/International Rescue Committee

You can read more about The International Rescue Committee at Facebook, Twitter och på deras website.

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