We live in a world today where we are divided by borders and walls. Something as ephemeral as a piece of paper, a document or a passport can acquire the potency of a curse that feels like it cannot be broken. Struggling to claim basic rights like self-determination and freedom of movement, those afflicted come to experience the passport, not as a symbol of identity and pride, but as a source of angst, a burden and a catalyst for desperation. Ultimately the passport becomes the tool of a system that enables and perpetuated racism.
Henley & Partners’ Visa Restrictions Index ranks passports according to the number of countries to which their holders are afforded visa-free access. Using the index as a point of departure, I address the struggle of humans who come from the countries that occupy the bottom of this international list.
What does mean if you come from Yemen, and your country is 98 on the list? What does it mean, if you come from Syria and your country is number 101 on the list? What does it mean, if you come from Afghanistan and your country is number 104 on the list? What does it mean and what does it look like?
This project explores the experiences of people who are hindered by their passports. It is about the people who are banned from entering countries; asylum seekers and stateless individuals who cross oceans and land masses to obtain a passport that will guarantee them a higher value in life. It is about the people who were not born within the “lucky” borders.
Calling on my own experience, this project reflects on freedom and the limitations placed on some people to come and go across jurisdictional spaces. My work aims to visually articulate people’s struggle to leave countries where conditions of violence, war, and aggression are prevalent. It weaves imagery that seeks to depict the unpredictable and transitory nature of such restricted lives, with reflections on personal moments; handwritten testimonies that capture the hopes, fears, dreams, and struggle that belie the sense of ‘other’ that is fostered by restriction of movement.
The project is about depicting the people that are hindered by their passports, the people who are banned from entering countries, the asylum seekers, the refugees who cross oceans and seas to obtain a passport that will guarantee them a life. It’s about the people who were not born in the “lucky” borders. This project is my desire to look deeply into the lives of ones’ freedom, the limitations of opportunities for them to go and come across the jurisdictional spaces. Through the relationship between texts and images, I want to illustrate how this cultural icon and the most political object called passport becomes a visible reminder of those who belong and those who are not to the modern world today.
My target groups are the people who come from the countries that occupy the bottom position in the Henley & Partners’ Visa Restrictions Index, which ranks passports according to the number of countries to which their holders are afforded visa-free access. I want to investigate what it looks like to be number 98 as the case in Yemen. Or 101 as the case of Syria, or 104 as the case in Afghanistan. I interview the asylum seekers, refugees and immigrants, and the book includes fragments of their past and written memories.
The approach is to portray these people behind a glass devise to convey the idea of experiencing hardships and the limitation of their freedom. The ultimate goal is to produce a complete photo book that includes these portraits as well as fragments of their lives, memories and reflections.
A letter from the book:
"I very much believe in the spiritual and motivational quote "Life is like a camera so always keep the smile" so I did smile while you were taking the shot with the glass-pane and many memories came up to my mind, in other words I was literally flying back in time. Worth mentioning I was wondering why I am away from the warm of the family, it's gennuine care along it's unconditional love and all I got back in answer "it's beyond my control". Sadly, few weeks later I horribly lost my father and not ironically I fully realise the high price and the painful meaning of not optionally being alienated..
I am not able to put into words I am afraid.."
All images courtesy of Thana Faroq.
Thana Faroq is a photographer and storyteller from Yemen. Earlier last year she was awarded the "Break the Silence scholarship" from the University of Westminster in London to pursue a Masters in Documentary Photography and Photojournalism. She worked with several international NGOs to document stories of women and war in Yemen such as the British Council, Care and Oxfam. Her work has been featured in several magazines and platforms including CNN, BBC, Aljazeera and Huffington Post. Her latest photo essay "Born in Prison" has appeared in World Press Photo. The Passport project is a work in progress and there are still voices from different nationalities to be targeted and heard. People from Yemen, Afghanistan, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Iraq.......
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