fled from Afghanistan, 2010
I have been living in Switzerland for two years now. My family could only pay for my escape.
Therefore, I am all alone here.
It is very expensive to flee and my family won’t be able to come to Switzerland.
When I left home my father gave me a cell phone. This cell phone and the clothes I was wearing were the only things that I could take with me.
My cell phone was the only way to get in contact with my family and to tell them that I have arrived well. It also gave me the feeling that I am not alone.
It ment everything to me.
fled from Iran, 2011
Five years ago I had to leave Iran. The only thing that I could take with me was what fitted in my trouser pockets.
It took a few months till I have arrived in Switzerland. Most of the time I was walking. Sometimes we had to cross a river by a rubber boat.
I only took those three photos with me. Every single one stands for a certain time in my life before my escape, that I like to remember back.
If I could I would have taken more things with me, but it was impossible.
fled from Eritrea, 2013
I got on board of a ship in Libya which had to bring us to Italy.
I couln’t take anything with me except the clothes I was wearing and a tiny little piece of paper with the phone number of my family on it.
They told me to contact them soon after my ariving in Italy.
About half way en route to Italy the ship overturned. It was already very old.
My clothes were soaking with sea water and were getting heavy so I had to take them off. They disappeared in the sea.
With them the piece of paper with the phone number.
I survived together with about 200 others. Over 250 have drowned.
Months after my escape from Eritrea I found someone in Switzerland who could contact my family.
They thought I didn’t survive the crossing by ship.
The piece of paper with their number was the most important thing that I owned.
fled from Afghanistan, 2007
I had packed some things from home but the smugglers told us to throw everything away. I didn't have the heart to toss out the photo of my mother, so I hid it under my clothes. I haven't seen my mother since I left, so this picture of her is very important to me.
fled from DR Congo, 2008
I had to leave my home from one second to the other. Unfortunately, there was no time to take anything with me.
fled from Bosnia, 1992
When I was a child, my father would often travel to Africa for work. One time when I was three, I had asked him to bring me back a real life monkey, but he brought me a stuffed bunny he had bought for me during a transit at Zurich Airport.
I took that bunny everywhere. When the war began, everything went so fast I could neither understand what was going on nor think about what I wanted to take with me when we fled. That's how I forgot my bunny when we left. My dad stayed behind, and I wrote him so many letters saying things like: "Did you find my bunny? I miss you!"
I can't describe how I felt when I saw my father again three years later, in 1995. My whole body was trembling when I saw his face at the Airport in Zurich – and saw that he was holding my bunny.
fled from Eritrea, 2014
The escape from Eritrea was quite long and exhausting. Walking for days, being held captive in several countries and crossing of one of world's biggest deserts didn't make it an easy journey. We were lucky, though. Everyone survived.
I took some personal things with me but I had to throw most of it away before crossing the desert so I could take as many bottles of water with me as possible. I kept a small book with phone numbers and a few photos from my childhood.
The phone numbers were very important, because I was held captive a few times and had to pay my captors a ransom for them to let me go. I'm lucky enough to have an uncle in the United States – he'd send me money so I could pay. That made his number the most important thing in my life.
fled from Afghanistan, 2014
It took me almost nine months to arrive in Switzerland. I wanted to take a ship from Turkey to Greece, but we kept getting caught by the coast guard in Greece and sent back to Turkey. I tried five times – once, the boat overturned and sank.
From all the things I took with me, only this cell phone is left. My mother bought it just before I fled Afghanistan – she spent 3.000 Afghani (about £34) on it. That's half of my family's monthly income.
The phone was the only way I could let my family know where I was on my journey and that I was OK. My mother was very worried, so a call from time to time helped to calm her down. The phone also made me feel safer and less lonely.
fled from Sri Lanka, 1984
I had to abandon our home in Sri Lanka in 1984. I walked most of the way, but in order to get to Switzerland I took a boat, a plane and a train as well.
I wasn't able to take much with me besides the clothes I had on. Since I had to leave my family behind, these photos were the only things that were important to me, and luckily I could carry them on me. On the photos you can see my parents, my brother and my sister – who's now deceased.
fled from Lebanon, 2014
Originally I'm Palestinian but I fled from Lebanon. A few years ago I converted from Islam to Christianity and a priest gave me this Bible. During my journey, a boat I was on was in trouble, and our fixer ordered us to throw all our stuff overboard. Somehow I managed to hide my bible. It's my most treasured possession and gives me strength in hard times. It's been soaked with seawater and it's quite dirty, but I wouldn't want a new one.
Here in Switzerland I live in an asylum with predominantly Muslims – my family are the only ones who know I converted. That's why I can't show my face – I'm living a double life.
fled from Tibet, 1959
In 1959 I fled with my father, my mother, my sister and my grandparents from Tibet to India. I was two at the time, although I don't know the exact day I was born.
I arrived in India only with my father and my grandparents – we had lost my sister and my mother on the way. The most important items we had on our escape were the torches illuminating the pass over the Himalaya.
fled from Afghanistan, 2011
Five years ago I had to leave Afghanistan. I was trained as a police officer there, but shortly after I had started on the job I was forced to leave the country.
I had a backpack with my belongings with me, but the human traffickers told me to throw it away. The only thing I have left is this little book from the police academy and a necklace my mother gave me.
I always dreamed of becoming a police officer. This little book is the only thing I have left of that dream.
fled from Afghanistan, 2010
Five years ago I fled Afghanistan. When I left, I couldn't take anything with me except the clothes I was wearing.
I was very little when my father was killed, so I hardy have any memories of him. He always wore a golden necklace and after he died, my mother gave it to me.
I came to Switzerland by myself and this necklace is everything I have from my family and my homeland. It means the world to me – it makes me feel like I'm not alone, like my father is always with me.
The ImPORTRAITS project is still running and I will ad portraits regularly. Please subscribe to the mailinglist to get updates.