Students attend class at an elementary school run by NRC in the Gulan refugee camp.

Khost, February 2017

Photo NRC/Jim Huylebroek
Afghanistan

Unsettled

The pressure on displaced Afghans to return is high, yet return remains, presently, an unrealistic prospect. In the exhibition Unsettled: Three Years Documenting Afghans on the Move, photos by Jim Huylebroek portray daily struggles of displaced Afghans in one of the most crisis-ridden countries in the world and then follows their journey along one of the world’s most dangerous migration routes – a path tread by over 200,000 Afghans fleeing to Europe since 2015.

First displayed in Berlin and now Geneva, these photos make up a travelling exhibition which is seeking to bring greater exposure amongst public audiences about the scale of the Afghan displacement crisis and also to encourage governments of the need to meet the challenges of responding to it.

The images are a culmination of three years of work by photographer Jim Huylebroek, commissioned by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) in Afghanistan. The photos are a compelling visual legacy of the human stories Jim encountered, preserving moments in time of individuals and families often forced to flee their homes in search of safety, a better life, a home, or simply a roof above them.

For every person depicted here, there are thousands others.

 

Ghulam Sarwar, originally from Kushk, a district in Herat, in front of his home in the Shaedayee settlement for IDPs in Herat city, Afghanistan.

Herat, May 2017

Photo NRC/Jim Huylebroek
Read caption Herat, May 2017: Ghulam Sarwar, originally from Kushk, a district in Herat, in front of his home in the Shaedayee settlement for internally displace d people in Herat city, Afghanistan.
Internally displaced girls fill jerry cans with water to carry back to their settlement in Kamar Kulagh.

Herat, May 2017

Photo NRC/Jim Huylebroek
Read caption Herat, May 2017: Internally displaced girls fill jerry cans with water to carry back to their settlement in Kamar Kulagh.
Boys no older than 13 from Helmand manoeuvre a pickup filled with refugees from Zaranj towards the lawless borderlands between Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran.

Nimruz, September 2015

NRC/Jim Huylebroek
Read caption Nimruz, September 2015: Boys no older than 13 from Helmand manoeuvre a pickup filled with refugees from Zaranj towards the lawless borderlands between Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran.
There were also times when I did not pick up my camera. The most memorable event during my journey for this book was during a visit to a settlement for internally displaced people and returnees in Kandahar. Struck by the piercing sound of a mother weeping, I was drawn to find out what had happened. She was waiting for the body of her young son, an army officer, to arrive, so the grieving family would bury him. It was the fourth family member she had lost to the war in only three years. To be present in the moment, I put my camera aside. You will not see a photo of the family in this book, but their pain is shared by many Afghan families and can be seen on many of the faces here.
Jim Huylebroek
A boat arrives at Skala Sikamineas port on Lesbos, Greece, with an Afghan family of seven from
Baghlan. The youngest is just over 12 months old. Their home district was overrun by the Taliban and the family decided to flee.

Lesbos, September 2016

NRC/Jim Huylebroek
Read caption Lesbos, September 2016: A boat arrives at Skala Sikamineas port on Lesbos, Greece, with an Afghan family of seven from Baghlan. The youngest is just over 12 months old. Their home district was overrun by the Taliban and the family decided to flee.
Mansoor, who was deported from Belgium after living there for years, sits on a bench in Kabul.

Kabul, November 2017

NRC/Jim Huylebroek
Read caption Mansoor, who was deported from Belgium after living there for years, sits on a bench in Kabul in November 2017.
Najibullah sleeps in an apartment managed by people smugglers in Zeytinburno, an Istanbul neighbourhood that resembles a little Kabul. So many Afghans live there that shop signs are in Dari and tailors can make a traditional shalwar kameez.

The apartment is fit for a small family, but demand is high in the people smuggling trade. He shares the apartment with 30 other men, sleeping side by side on the floor. By day, they trade tales of bad luck and bad choices. “There is no war here, they admit, but look how we live.”

All these men are in transit. They have been unable to establish a life in Turkey and nor can they go back, so they have little choice but to push north to Europe. Since Ankara cut a deal with Brussels, they know it is likely they will be deported. They have heard stories of destitute Afghan men selling sex in parks in Athens and Berlin. Others live in squalid warehouses and abandoned factories in Serbia. Some have been beaten and
teargassed by the police, captured at the border and kicked back south.

Istanbul, September 2016

NRC/Jim Huylebroek
Read caption Istanbul, September 2016: Najibullah sleeps in an apartment managed by people smugglers in Zeytinburno, an Istanbul neighbourhood that resembles a little Kabul. So many Afghans live there that shop signs are in Dari and tailors can make a traditional shalwar kameez.
An undocumented returnee family returns to Afghanistan from Pakistan via the Torkham border crossing in Nangahar.

Nangarhar, August 2016

NRC/Jim Huylebroek
Read caption Nangarhar, August 2016: An undocumented returnee family returns to Afghanistan from Pakistan via the Torkham border crossing in Nangahar.
Shelters in Surkh Rod, Nangarhar, provided by NRC for the Khan family, who returned to Afghanistan recently from Pakistan after harassment from the authorities.

Nangarhar, February 2017

NRC/Jim Huylebroek
Read caption Nangarhar, February 2017: Shelters in Surkh Rod provided by NRC for the Khan family, who returned to Afghanistan from Pakistan after harassment from the authorities.