Iraq / IDP / Hifad's tent in Arbat camp outside Sulimaniyah burned down when her four year old daughter Tahanii tried to turn on a kerosene stove to warm up a pot of chickpea soup for lunch. Flames engulfed the plastic sheeting almost immediately. Hifad, her four children and husband all escaped the fire unhurt, but they lost almost all of the few possessions they had after fleeing Salahadeen province and arriving at the came three months ago. "Their food, their money, everything they own, it was all burned," said Farhat, Hifad's sister in law who came running to the site of the fire after she saw smoke. Two weeks ago another tent burned down and badly burned six family members who are still receiving treatment in a government hospital. Originally built to house 800 families, Arbat IDP camp is now home to more than 3,000. Few have access to electricity, forcing many families to rely on more dangerous kerosene heathers and stoves. And the tents who are connected to the power grid are overburdening it, increasing the risk of electrical fires.  / D. NAHR / March 2015
Originally built to house 800 families, the Arbat camp, outside of Sulaymaniyah in Iraq's Kurdistan, was home to more than 3,000 in March 2015. Hifad's tent burned down when her 4-year-old daughter Tahanii tried to turn on a kerosene stove to warm up a pot of chickpea soup. Hifad, her four children and husband all escaped the fire unhurt.Dominic Nahr—UNHCR
Iraq / IDP / Hifad's tent in Arbat camp outside Sulimaniyah burned down when her four year old daughter Tahanii tried to turn on a kerosene stove to warm up a pot of chickpea soup for lunch. Flames engulfed the plastic sheeting almost immediately. Hifad, her four children and husband all escaped the fire unhurt, but they lost almost all of the few possessions they had after fleeing Salahadeen province and arriving at the came three months ago. "Their food, their money, everything they own, it was all burned," said Farhat, Hifad's sister in law who came running to the site of the fire after she saw smoke. Two weeks ago another tent burned down and badly burned six family members who are still receiving treatment in a government hospital. Originally built to house 800 families, Arbat IDP camp is now home to more than 3,000. Few have access to electricity, forcing many families to rely on more dangerous kerosene heathers and stoves. And the tents who are connected to the power grid are overburdening it, increasing the risk of electrical fires.  / D. NAHR / March 2015
Iraq / IDP / A displaced Iraq family stands outside of their tent in Baharka Camp in Erbil, Iraq. Due to the influx and the limited capacity of the camp most of the residents will have started to be moved into the new Baharka camp by February 2015. / UNHCR/ D. NAHR / October 2014
Iraq / Syrian Refugees / Nishan (centre) stays standing while he eats his lunch so that his sister in law and her children have a seat at the table in Amed Restaurant in Roviya during a lunch break "Of course the future of my family will be better if they stay in Kurdistan. For me, it would have been better to stay in my home [in Kobani], but we were forced to leave. We have no other option, just to leave our country and go somewhere else." He and his family is traveling with over 300 other Syrian refugees from Kobani from Ibrahim Khalil Border crossing to Gawilan Refugee camp in Iraq's Kurdish Region.  / D. NAHR / March 2015
Iraq / IDP / Yazidi IDP's work and live inside the dark hallways of a building in Daben city in Zakho. Many children have started to get sick with skin diseases and have received little vitamins and sunlight over the many months they lived in complete darkness. There are an estimated 850,000 internally displaced people currently living in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, having fled violence and persecution in other parts of the country. / D. NAHR / November 2014
Iraq / Syrian Refugees / Mohammed Ali (55), a Syrian refugee from Kobani city, lies inside a bus heading to Gawilan refugee camp in Dohuk with his oxygen mask and canister at the Ibrahim Khalil Border Crossing after arriving from Turkey with hundreds of other Syrian refugee’s. He says: ’I have a lung infection. I'm sick and I don't think I will live for a very long time, but at least I am here to be with my family. We left Kobane on 23 September. I asked my family to leave me there, but they insisted on taking me. During the journey my sons had to carry me, I couldn¹t even speak. Imagine yourself in a situation where you've left everything you have. You¹ve left your home and come to a place where you don¹t belong. More then 2,000 Syrian refugee’s from Kobane have arrived since the Kurdish authorities in Iraq have opened the border to Turkey on 10th October 2014 / D. NAHR / October 2014
Iraq / Syrian Refugees / A young Syrian girl from Kobani and her fathers hand can be seen inside a bus arriving at a new transit point at the Ibrahim Khalil Border Crossing in Iraq after traveling by bus today from Turkey. Soon after arriving, they get moved to new buses which bring them to Gawilan Camp between Dohuk and Erbil. Most hope to leave the camp and look for work in major cities, many however will have to stay in camps around the Kurdish region. More then 2,000 Syrian refugee’s from Kobane have arrived since the Kurdish authorities in Iraq opened the border to Turkey on 10th October 2014 and the Kurdish authorities expect the numbers to rise to several tens of thousands in the coming days and weeks. / D. NAHR / October 2014
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Italy. Refugees and migrants landing operation in Catania.
Italy. Syrian refugees arrive at the Sicilian port of Catania.
Italy. Refugees and migrants landing at Augusta port
Italy. Refugees and migrants landing operation in Catania.
Italy. Refugees and migrants landing operation in Messina
Italy. Landing operation in the Sicilian port of Augusta
Originally built to house 800 families, the Arbat camp, outside of Sulaymaniyah in Iraq's Kurdistan, was home to more t
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Dominic Nahr—UNHCR
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Photographing Europe's Refugee Crisis for the United Nations

Oct 07, 2015

“There are very few three-month-long assignments out there,” says freelance photographer Ivor Prickett. So when the Irish photographer was offered one by the United Nations Refugee Agency, he didn’t hesitate. “I was approached [to cover] the Syrian refugee crisis in the Middle East. It was a topic I was already interested in, so it was not a hard decision to say yes.”

As the competition for editorial assignments has intensified over the last decade, Prickett and many of his colleagues have turned to non-governmental organizations to sustain their work. The UNHCR has been a particularly fruitful employer, commissioning dozens of professional photographers around the world.

Now, as Europe is dealing with its largest refugee crisis since World War II, the organization has dispatched numerous photographers to the region. It started with the rise of the Islamic State, whose strategic and geographic gains forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes. The UNHCR sent freelance photographer Dominic Nahr to Iraq to cover that aspect of the story. Fabio Bucciarelli was dispatched to Sicily last May to record the arrivals of thousands of refugees in Italy. And Prickett was asked to follow Syrian and Iraqi people who had sought refuge in Turkey and Greece. They are just three of the many photographers whose work with the organization is important to its mission, says Susan Hopper, UNHCR's photo editor. “We look for photographers who capture people’s humanity and who understand what viewers will connect to,” she tells TIME. “That connection is extremely important, especially with the situation in Europe.”

The news that thousands of refugees and economic migrants are arriving on the continent can be unsettling for a European public that is still dealing with the after-effects of a devastating economic crisis. “There’s a lot of talk and fear about refugees and so it’s critical that people can see for themselves what’s happening,” says Hopper. “We choose photographers who can show that this refugee is a regular person who has run out of options and is being forced to do something desperate to protect his or her family. And when you see photos of these people’s faces when they arrive on the beach in Greece, it clicks. Seeing how traumatized and scared these people are generates empathy and understanding and changes attitudes and behaviors. That’s the connection we want to make.”

A typical UNHCR assignment starts with a meeting with the organization’s photo editors in Geneva. “We talk through what our aims and needs are,” says Prickett. “I will make a rough plan of where I want to go and then contact the locally-based UNHCR staff to get an idea of what’s going on and where I need to be.” For the Irish photographer, that process is very similar to the one he applies to his personal work or to magazine assignments. For example, when in Greece, Prickett was able to work independently. “I was simply photographing what I was seeing on the ground, documenting the movement of people and gathering testimonies from refugees,” he says.

Another aspect aspect the UNHCR stresses is the need for extended and accurate captions, which include quotes, subjects’ names and contextual information, to populate the organization's photo database. That database is called Refugees Media and it’s an essential part of the organization’s activities. “After a day of shooting most photographers stay up half the night writing captions and filing into our media database,” says the U.N.'s Hopper. “It’s not uncommon for the High Commissioner’s spokesperson to tweet a photo 15 minutes after it’s been filed by a photographer in the field. Having that immediacy — in the form of a refugee’s face and name and words — is what helps us to break through the noise and get people to care."

The agency also tasks photographers with shooting longer, in-depth stories each month, which are then combined with articles, charts and videos and published on the multimedia platform Tracks. “Great photography plays a central role on Tracks,” says Christopher Reardon, the chief of content production at the agency. “[The U.N. project is] racking up more page views and longer dwell times than our conventional pages."

For the photographers, a UNHCR assignment can offer access to that expanded audience, but it also comes with questions about independence and objectivity. They have to produce strong single images that can define an entire story, and have to keep an eye out for “emotional stories with a positive outcome, especially stories about women and children,” says Bucciarelli. “And since the agency deals with refugees and not with economic migrants, the focus was on people who had fled from internationally-recognized wars.”

But as Nahr points out, that's no different from working with any client. “I understand that every organization, whether they are a magazine, a newspaper, a charity, has an agenda,” he says. But, Nahr adds, his time with the UNHCR rekindled his relationship with photography after a difficult few years. “It has re-sparked my love for taking photographs and reporting,” he says. “I could let go of the usual stress, anxieties and restrictions of not having long assignments and constantly hustling to look for money to pay for drivers, fuel, translators, housing, et cetera. I felt I could use all of my energy to focus on being truly with the people I am documenting over and over again.”

Olivier Laurent is the editor of TIME LightBox. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @olivierclaurent

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