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A project called UNPACKED: Refugee Baggage by Syrian architect Mohamad Hafez and Iraqi refugee and novelist Ahmed Badr has the objective of "humanizing the word refugee." Ten suitcases have been used as part of the project to tell the story of their owners - refugees who have fled war, poverty and persecution and moved to the United States to build a better future.

The project dates back to the summer of 2017 and ''sculpturally re-creates rooms, homes, buildings and landscapes that have suffered the ravages of war'' inside some suitcases, as written on the initiative's website.''Each is embedded with the voices and stories of real people from Afghanistan, Congo, Syria, Iraq and Sudan who have escaped those same rooms and buildings to build a new life in America''.Their stories were reported by Ahmed Badr, ''who is himself an Iraqi refugee''. The installation, exhibited on September 13-17 at the Artspace Gallery in New Haven, Connecticut, enables visitors to ''experience short audio clips through headphones'' and they ''can continue reading the stories online and on exhibit placards''. 

Arts against the fear of foreigners

Hafez, as reported in an article by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) on the project, travelled to the US from Syria in 2003. He misses home, especially knowing that his country has changed so much due to the war. His work is full of memories and conveys the pain caused by years of separation.''My work is not meant to be political. In our divided societies, both overseas and here, I am not trying to be political but rather join artistically the common denominators among humans'', Hafez told IOM. Through his work, the Syrian artist hopes to influence the public opinion in the US and change the perception of those who fear foreigners.''If there is one country that should be pro-immigrants and refugees, that is the United States that was built by immigrants'', he explained. ''Unless you are a Native American, you have come here on a boat or a plane at some point''. 

(Some images of the project. Credit: Mohamad Hafez and Ahmed Badr) Link video: https://vimeo.com/232924010
 

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