Maker Profile: Rita Kabalan photographs Syrian refugees

My friend Rita went to Europe in October to cover the refugee crisis. Below are snippets of our conversations about her experience there along with some of her photos.

“When I was afraid it was always about failure. But when you see people running from real instinctual fear, life or death type fear, you recognize that your fear is one you created for yourself. To simply hold you back.”


“When you see photos and videos from afar, you assume the entire country or city looks that way – pure chaos. However, there were people still vacationing in Lesvos. Eating out at restaurants. Walking near the water. Some were just hanging around looking bored. It was strange to see that happening and then see 17 boats full of refugees arriving. It was surreal.”


“The first time I saw refugees I was shocked at how many were there waiting. Some were sleeping on the sidewalks and under trees. My first reaction was to do nothing at that point. I felt paralyzed about taking photos which was something I struggled with on and off for the rest of the trip.”


“They had to wait to get permission papers so they could get on a bus and leave Serbia legally. Many waited for 9 or 10 hours. Some would get separated from family members. There was an old woman there with her family. She completely passed out moments after I took the picture because she had asthma and ran out of her inhaler. There’s so much pressure on them not to leave the line.”


“You’re trying to be a photographer yet you’re human, so you’re doing as much as you can to help out. People were running from a war zone and there I was waiting to photograph them. In that moment it didn’t seem as important. There were many times where I felt more comfortable acting as a volunteer and translator. However, when I got home, I wished I had taken more photographs, better photographs to represent them.”


“There was a young Syrian man who had shrapnel in his arm so when it was raining and cold, he was in a lot of pain. I couldn’t find a blanket for him. The aid organizations had run out. His friend was hugging him to keep him warm the whole time.”



Rita Kabalan is a Lebanese American photographer currently based in Brooklyn. She’s available to travel for assignments.

You can find Rita on Instagram or Facebook and also at her main site

Help out the Syrian refugees by visiting the Starfish Foundation whose goal is to help the refugees arriving in Lesvos and make them feel a warm welcome from Europe.

Categorized in: Creative Mind,


  • Rita

    thank you for this, Jenna! I’m honored to be on your blog & have you as a friend.

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