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World Refugee Day: Syrians' Stories Of Escape, Survival

More than 1 million Syrians have been forced to leave their country, seeking refuge in neighboring Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, and elsewhere. Fearing reprisals, many have had to conceal their intentions to escape, bringing little with them as they fled to the border. In this photo series for the UN refugee agency, marking World Refugee Day on June 20, photographer Brian Sokol asked Syrian refugees, "What is the most important thing you brought from home?" (13 PHOTOS)

 Iman, 25, poses for a portrait with her 2-year-old son, Ahmed, her 1-year-old daughter, Aishia, in the Nizip refugee camp in Turkey. They fled Aleppo after Iman lost five relatives to fighting and their home was destroyed. The most important thing Iman was able to bring with her is the Koran she is holding. She says that religion is the most important aspect of her life, and that the Koran inspires a sense of protection.
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Iman, 25, poses for a portrait with her 2-year-old son, Ahmed, her 1-year-old daughter, Aishia, in the Nizip refugee camp in Turkey. They fled Aleppo after Iman lost five relatives to fighting and their home was destroyed. The most important thing Iman was able to bring with her is the Koran she is holding. She says that religion is the most important aspect of her life, and that the Koran inspires a sense of protection.

Omar, 37, poses in his tent in the Domiz refugee camp in Iraqi Kurdistan. Omar decided to leave Damascus the night his neighbors were killed. "They came into their home, whoever they were, and savagely cut my neighbor and his two sons. They dragged the bodies into the street, where we found them in the morning." The next day he used the majority of his savings to hire a truck to flee with his wife and their two sons. The most important thing that Omar brought with him is his instrument, called a buzuq. "Playing it fills me with a sense of nostalgia and reminds me of my homeland. For a short time, it gives me some relief from my sorrows."
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Omar, 37, poses in his tent in the Domiz refugee camp in Iraqi Kurdistan. Omar decided to leave Damascus the night his neighbors were killed. "They came into their home, whoever they were, and savagely cut my neighbor and his two sons. They dragged the bodies into the street, where we found them in the morning." The next day he used the majority of his savings to hire a truck to flee with his wife and their two sons. The most important thing that Omar brought with him is his instrument, called a buzuq. "Playing it fills me with a sense of nostalgia and reminds me of my homeland. For a short time, it gives me some relief from my sorrows."

Alia, 24, poses for a portrait in the Domiz refugee camp in Iraqi Kurdistan. Fighting forced her and her family to flee from Daraa, Syria. Alia says the only important thing that she brought with her "is my soul, nothing more – nothing material." When asked about her wheelchair, she seemed surprised, saying that she considers it an extension of her body, not an object. "I am happy. I am happy to be safe, to be here with my family," she says.
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Alia, 24, poses for a portrait in the Domiz refugee camp in Iraqi Kurdistan. Fighting forced her and her family to flee from Daraa, Syria. Alia says the only important thing that she brought with her "is my soul, nothing more – nothing material." When asked about her wheelchair, she seemed surprised, saying that she considers it an extension of her body, not an object. "I am happy. I am happy to be safe, to be here with my family," she says.

Salma, who is over 90 years old, fled her home in Qamishly City when the apartments surrounding hers were destroyed. She escaped with her three sons and their families, leaving home in the middle of the night in a rented car. The most important thing that she was able to bring with her is a ring her dying mother gave her when she was 10. "It's not valuable -- not silver, or gold -- just an old ring. But it's all that I have left," she says.
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Salma, who is over 90 years old, fled her home in Qamishly City when the apartments surrounding hers were destroyed. She escaped with her three sons and their families, leaving home in the middle of the night in a rented car. The most important thing that she was able to bring with her is a ring her dying mother gave her when she was 10. "It's not valuable -- not silver, or gold -- just an old ring. But it's all that I have left," she says.

Waleed, 37, a doctor, poses at the Doctors Without Borders clinic where he works in Iraq's Kurdistan region. Waleed fled Syria with his wife and their newborn baby in early 2012. He brought this photograph of his wife with him. Although they are still together, he says, "This is important because she gave me this photo back home before we were married, during the time when we were dating. It always brings me great memories and reminds me of my happiest time back home in Syria.”
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Waleed, 37, a doctor, poses at the Doctors Without Borders clinic where he works in Iraq's Kurdistan region. Waleed fled Syria with his wife and their newborn baby in early 2012. He brought this photograph of his wife with him. Although they are still together, he says, "This is important because she gave me this photo back home before we were married, during the time when we were dating. It always brings me great memories and reminds me of my happiest time back home in Syria.”

May, 8, arrived in Domiz, Iraq, after fleeing Damascus with her family. She has had recurring nightmares in which her father is violently killed. She is now attending school, and says she finally feels safe. May hopes to be a photographer when she grows up. The most important thing she was able to bring with her when she left home is the set of bracelets she wears in this photograph.
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May, 8, arrived in Domiz, Iraq, after fleeing Damascus with her family. She has had recurring nightmares in which her father is violently killed. She is now attending school, and says she finally feels safe. May hopes to be a photographer when she grows up. The most important thing she was able to bring with her when she left home is the set of bracelets she wears in this photograph.

Abdul left Damascus for Lebanon with his family shortly after his wife was wounded in the crossfire between armed groups. The most important things Abdul brought from Syria are the keys to his home. Although he doesn't know if the family's apartment is still standing, he dreams every day of returning home. "God willing, I will see you this time next year in Damascus," he told the photographer.
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Abdul left Damascus for Lebanon with his family shortly after his wife was wounded in the crossfire between armed groups. The most important things Abdul brought from Syria are the keys to his home. Although he doesn't know if the family's apartment is still standing, he dreams every day of returning home. "God willing, I will see you this time next year in Damascus," he told the photographer.

Tamara, 20, poses for a portrait in the Adiyaman refugee camp in Turkey. Her family fled Idlib after their home was partially destroyed. "We spent 40 days on the Syrian side of the border with very little water and no electricity. The hygiene there was very poor. I got food poisoning and was sick for a week," she says. Tamara brought her diploma, which will help her continue her education in Turkey.
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Tamara, 20, poses for a portrait in the Adiyaman refugee camp in Turkey. Her family fled Idlib after their home was partially destroyed. "We spent 40 days on the Syrian side of the border with very little water and no electricity. The hygiene there was very poor. I got food poisoning and was sick for a week," she says. Tamara brought her diploma, which will help her continue her education in Turkey.

Ayman, 82, and his wife Yasmine, 67, at the Nizip refugee camp in Turkey. They fled their home in a rural area near Aleppo after their 70-year-old neighbor and his son, a shepherd, were brutally killed. Breaking into tears, Ayman described how nearby farms came under attack and homes were looted and set on fire. "It is unbelievable that any human being can do this to another," he said. Ayman says his wife is the most important thing he brought from home. "She's the best woman I've met in my life," he says. "Even if I were to go back 55 years, I would choose [her] again."
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Ayman, 82, and his wife Yasmine, 67, at the Nizip refugee camp in Turkey. They fled their home in a rural area near Aleppo after their 70-year-old neighbor and his son, a shepherd, were brutally killed. Breaking into tears, Ayman described how nearby farms came under attack and homes were looted and set on fire. "It is unbelievable that any human being can do this to another," he said. Ayman says his wife is the most important thing he brought from home. "She's the best woman I've met in my life," he says. "Even if I were to go back 55 years, I would choose [her] again."

Yusuf poses for a portrait in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon. The most important thing he brought from Syria is his mobile phone. "With this, I'm able to call my father. We're close enough to Syria here that I can catch a signal from the Syrian towers sometimes, and then it is a local call home from Lebanon." The phone also holds photographs of family members who are still in Syria, which he is able to keep with him at all times.
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Yusuf poses for a portrait in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon. The most important thing he brought from Syria is his mobile phone. "With this, I'm able to call my father. We're close enough to Syria here that I can catch a signal from the Syrian towers sometimes, and then it is a local call home from Lebanon." The phone also holds photographs of family members who are still in Syria, which he is able to keep with him at all times.

Mohamed, 43, is the imam of the only mosque in the Domiz refugee camp in Iraqi Kurdistan. After being warned that armed elements were searching for him in Syria, Mohamed got into a car with his wife and their six children and drove toward the Iraqi border, then walked for two hours to reach safety. The most important thing that Mohamed was able to bring with him is the Koran. "I love my religion, but I am not so strict in my views. I want to teach the importance of brotherhood and equality between all religions," he says.
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Mohamed, 43, is the imam of the only mosque in the Domiz refugee camp in Iraqi Kurdistan. After being warned that armed elements were searching for him in Syria, Mohamed got into a car with his wife and their six children and drove toward the Iraqi border, then walked for two hours to reach safety. The most important thing that Mohamed was able to bring with him is the Koran. "I love my religion, but I am not so strict in my views. I want to teach the importance of brotherhood and equality between all religions," he says.

Leila, 9, fled to Irbil, Iraq, with her four sisters, mother, father and grandmother. The most important thing Leila was able to bring with her is this pair of jeans. "I went shopping with my parents one day and looked for hours without finding anything I liked. But when I saw these, I knew instantly that these were perfect because they have a flower on them, and I love flowers." She wore them to two wedding parties in Syria, and says she won't wear them again until she attends another wedding -- which she hopes will also be in Syria.
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Leila, 9, fled to Irbil, Iraq, with her four sisters, mother, father and grandmother. The most important thing Leila was able to bring with her is this pair of jeans. "I went shopping with my parents one day and looked for hours without finding anything I liked. But when I saw these, I knew instantly that these were perfect because they have a flower on them, and I love flowers." She wore them to two wedding parties in Syria, and says she won't wear them again until she attends another wedding -- which she hopes will also be in Syria.

Ahmed, 70, fled Syria with his wife and eight of their nine children when their home in Damascus was destroyed in an attack. Together with four other families -- 50 people in all -- they escaped in the back of an open-topped truck, covered with plastic sheeting. The most important thing Ahmed brought is his cane, without which he wouldn't have made the two-hour crossing on foot to the Iraqi border. "All I want now is for my family to find a place where they can be safe and stay there forever. Never should we need to flee again," he says.
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Ahmed, 70, fled Syria with his wife and eight of their nine children when their home in Damascus was destroyed in an attack. Together with four other families -- 50 people in all -- they escaped in the back of an open-topped truck, covered with plastic sheeting. The most important thing Ahmed brought is his cane, without which he wouldn't have made the two-hour crossing on foot to the Iraqi border. "All I want now is for my family to find a place where they can be safe and stay there forever. Never should we need to flee again," he says.

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