Father and son without limbs, the photo of life in Syria despite all
Syria–“The difficulties of life” is the photo title with which the Turkish photographer Mehmet Aslan won the Siena International Photo Awards 2021, a prestigious photographic competition in which artists from 163 countries participate. The image was taken in the district of Reyhanli, in the Turkish province of Hatay, on the border with Syria. It immediately became a symbol of the tragedy of the Syrian conflict. Aslan immortalized the moment in which a man without a leg, lost to a bomb, picks up his son born without lower and upper limbs due to a malformation caused by the mother’s taking drugs, struck by nerve gas during the war.
“This photo has reached the world; we have tried for years to be heard to help my son with the treatments, we would do everything to give him a better life,” said moved Mustafa’s mother. This child smiles happily in the photo while the dad throws it up to the sky, to the American newspaper Washington Post.
The photographer said he met the child’s father, Munzer El Mezhel, near the Syrian border, where he lived with his wife and three children inside the shop. The family arrived in Turkey in 2006, by ambulance, after an explosion. The man was at the market in Idlib, a city in north western Syria, with his pregnant wife when a plane belonging to the Damascus regime dropped a bomb. Munzer El Mezhel lost his leg while his wife and the baby he was carrying were saved. But little Mustafa was born without all four limbs due to the medical treatment the woman suffering from nerve gas was subjected to.
The photo tells a tragedy that is not over yet, one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world caused by a war that has lasted for ten years. The conflict in the country broke out in 2011 when the peaceful protests against the Bashar Assad regime turned into a real civil war. Armed clashes between the rebels and the armed forces, which violently tried to suppress the demonstrations, have become increasingly frequent, leading to the country’s division and economic collapse. Assad is still in power today, while half of the Syrian population is displaced.
According to a report by UNICEF, the UN organization for the protection of children, almost 6 million are internally displaced within Syria, and more than 13 million people need humanitarian aid. Half of them – over 6.1 million – are children. According to UNICEF data, many of them born in the last ten years, like Mustafa, know nothing but war, poverty, and destruction: 4.8 million. A further million were born as refugees in neighbouring countries.
Over two-thirds of children with physical or mental disabilities need specialized assistance and services not available in Syria or where they have found refuge. “I swear, I went to every hospital, every village, but I got nothing,” dad Munzir, who cares more about his son’s happiness than his war impairment, tells the Washington Post. In Turkey, to date, they have not found answers. Unfortunately, the necessary electronic prostheses, expensive and available only in Europe, are not available in Turkey. Aslan hopes that with this award, we can help Mustafa and bring attention back to children who, like him, suffer the worst consequences of the conflict.