Zahra Mackaoui

Hany's Story

Channel 4 News, Al Jazeera/UNHCR

In 2012, the Syrian conflict engulfed the city of Homs, home to Hani Al Moliya and his family. The bombs destroyed his home, and his cousins were killed. Months later, Hani was arrested for trying to smuggle food into the city. He was released, but he knew his days in Syria were numbered. Like millions of others, he fled the country. Overnight, he became a refugee; his home a tent in one of the thousands of small settlements that had spread out across the country. Life was about daily survival and for Hani, exile also had another meaning.

Hani is legally blind. He suffers from an eye condition, nystagmus, which means his irises are never stable. He cannot focus beyond ten centimetres, and suffers from extreme sensitivity to light. Hani is also colour blind. Yet despite of the limitations of his eye condition, Hani began taking photos of his life in the camps. Photography gave meaning to his existence; it allowed him to document his life as a refugee and the camera helped him to see what would normally be out of focus, “I imagine a picture in my mind and tell the camera that is what I want. I don’t need to see, I want to create something in my mind,” he explained.

Yet amidst rising tensions and unable to see a future in the camps, Hani and his family applied for asylum to Canada. A year later, they were accepted, and left Lebanon to begin their new lives in a quiet leafy suburb in Regina, Saskatchewan. Within months of his arrival in Canada, Hani’s photos began to be noticed by Canadian media. The Canadian government had granted asylum to 25,000 Syrian refugees and interest in Syria conflict was growing.

In October 2016, Hani was elected to be part of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s National Youth Council, and the Youth Movement WE.Org chose Hani to tour the country with them. The boy from the camps, who sees only shapes and outlines, became a role model for Syrian refugees in Canada.

Shot over 2 years, ‘Through My Eyes’ is an intimate portrait of a Syrian refugee, following his journey from the camps in Lebanon to the heart of the Canadian Prairies. Mixing filming with Hani’s photos, and told from his point of view, it is a story of courage and resilience, set against the backdrop of the Syria crisis and the rising populism across Europe and USA.