This T-shirt belongs to a 33 year old man who we will call Hassan for his protection. Hassan is originally from Syria. Since 2017, he has held refugee status and lived in a small village in northern Scandinavia. He hiked and took cars, boats, trains, and buses from his home in Syria to Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan, Turkey, Greece, Macedonia, and up through the dangerous forests of Serbia and Hungary.
Hassan’s T-shirt is pictured here inside out. He says:
“See this secret pocket? This my mother sew for me, on the inside but you can’t see from the outside…she sew this for me, before I leave Syria to Europe. She say I can keep my passport and some small money, where no-one can see…Now, I keep this T-shirt because this is the T-shirt that get me here [to Scandinavia]…between Serbia and Hungary, there are many smugglers and mafia that we pay for to get us through borders… they lead us to a trap, and the trap was one woman with a small gun and two knives… and they have electricity sticks [tasers], and big flashlight. They stop us and take all our things from us – money and documents – but they didn’t notice my secret pocket that my mother sewed, with my passport in and some money. So, this t-shirt, it is very special to me. Very special.”
The passport, also pictured here, poking out from the pocket of the T-shirt is wrapped in cling-wrap to protect it from sweat, sea, rain, and snow throughout Hassan’s journey.
The meaning of these utilitarian materials changed over the course of Hassan’s migration journey. They have come to symbolize his country, resilience, and bravery; they also materialize the love between mother and son. These objects help to maintain a tangible connection between Hassan and his home, a place to which he can never return without forfeiting his refugee status. Hassan uses these objects to come to terms with his own experience of forced displacement and its place in the wider story of exodus from Syria in the wake of the war and state violence.
Rachael Kiddey is a British Academy Postdoctoral Researcher in the School of Archaeology at the University of Oxford.