The Refugee Project is the brainchild of documentary photographer Bikem Ekberzade.
Bikem started the Project in the midst of the Kosovo crisis with the aim to try and shed light to the humanitarian crisis in the Balkan triangle of Albania-Kosovo-Macedonia. She traveled to Northern Albania first in 1998, to document the lives of Kosovar Albanians seeking shelter in the mountain villages south of the border from Kosovo. With logistical support from UNHCR and a German NGO HCC (Humanitarian Cargo Carriers) stationed in Albania, and International Federation of Red Cross Red Crescent (IFRC/ICRC) in Macedonia she was able to move around and visit the refugee families in camps, during relocation, and finally upon their return to Kosovo. She continued her work for 2 years, until fighting ceased in Kosovo, the borders opened leading to rapid repatriation.
Azerbaijan was Bikem’s next step in The Refugee Project (TRP). The status quo in the region had left the IDPs (Internally Displaced People) stranded in makeshift refugee camps for over 20 years. Living in mud-shacks in designated areas, on train tracks, in abandoned school buildings mostly away from large cities, these uprooted people were trying to survive where no hope for their return flourished. Despite the fact that their territory was occupied by another country, they were nowhere in the news, no one was coming to their rescue, and the only mention of them were as “burdens” in a country’s economy, unwanted, forgotten.
Stories of families stranded in Azerbaijan would soon be followed by stories of Afghan families who were taking refuge in sprawling camps in the NWFP in Pakistan, and the internally displaced in the Penshir valley of central Afghanistan.
Bikem continued her project in Turkey, spending three years documenting the lives of two illegal refugees in Istanbul. The collection of photographs led to a book: Illegal. In 2006 when the book hit the shelves at bookstores in Turkey, she was already off in the Sahel, covering the exodus out of Darfur into neighboring Chad. In 2010, her second book West-end of the Border was published.
The final leg of The Refugee Project is a cross-platform, multi-format intervention called Crossings.
The simple intention to highlight a humanitarian crisis has turned into an expansive project seeking to document and expose the grim and overlooked nature of the global refugee crisis. Bikem continues to concentrate on populations running from direct threat to their livelihood in their country of origin, trying to seek shelter in different parts of the globe. Her main aim is to make the invisible, visible, hence she prefers to focus on geographies, conflicts and people who fall off the media grid.
The Refugee Project is based on the people themselves, and the photographer above all wishes to extend her gratitude to all families who have placed much valued trust in her and taken her into their lives.