Breaking Barriers for refugees making a new start

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Yuel Eyob just saved up to buy a fixie bike, “just for fun, because I love cycling so much”. Daniel Negassi loves music and DJ-ing. Bada Yusuf volunteered at Pride’s pop-up shop last year, and met a group of people who are now “all friends, and I have parties at my house”. They sound like typical young Londoners but their stories are anything but – war and persecution meant all three were forced to leave their countries, and start again from scratch in London. Even so all three have found jobs, and Yusuf has nearly finished a Masters.

They feature in an exhibition called Breaking Barriers, which aims to show “the dreams and challenges faced by refugees in the UK”. Co-curated by Rebecca McClelland, who spent seven years as a photographic editor at The Sunday Times Magazine before becoming the New Statesman’s first photographic lead, the show features portraits by world-famous image-makers such as Diana Markosian, Nick Waplington, Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin.

Ten people are featured in the exhibition, all of whom work having been given help to find jobs by the Breaking Barriers charity. The hurdles they’ve overcome are immense. Ozlem Erden was sent to jail in Turkey when she was just 14, for belonging to a Kurdish political party; Sam saw his “normal life” destroyed by the war in Syria. Mohsen Raiesi has had nightmares every day since he was three, when his town was destroyed in the Iraq/Iran war.

Mayada Awad, who has a Masters in Human Rights and Humanitarian Law at Essex University, says she was once told that “refugees have got the resilience”, and all ten stories bear out this observation.

“People always ask me if I find it difficult because this is a new country for me,” says Beilqes Alzawm, who once had a house, a car and “a prestigious job in human rights” in Yemen. “What are you talking about? To lose your life is the big struggle, to wake up every day and open your eyes to bombing and shells, to be without food and sleep.”

Breaking Barriers is on show from 04-07 October at Protein Studios, 31 New Inn Yard, London, EC2A 3EY 

Ahmed Osman from Egypt by Nick Waplington
Yuel Eyob from Eritrea by Caleb Femi
Bada Yusuf from Egypt by Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin
Beilqes Alzawm from Yemen by Leonie Hampton
Ozlem Erden from Turkey by Jo Metson Scott
Sam from Syria by Timur Celikdag
Mayada Awad from Sudan by Diana Markosian
Mohsen Raiese from Iran by Leon Chew
Amir Azimi from Iran by Samin Ahmadzadeh
Diane Smyth

Diane Smyth is a freelance journalist who contributes to publications such as The Guardian, The Observer, The FT Weekend Magazine, Creative Review, The Calvert Journal, Aperture, FOAM, IMA, Aesthetica and Apollo Magazine. Prior to going freelance, she wrote and edited at BJP for 15 years. She has also curated exhibitions for institutions such as The Photographers Gallery and Lianzhou Foto Festival. You can follow her on instagram @dismy