This heart-wrenching photograph is not a fake

A Syrian refugee raises her arms in surrender after mistaking the camera lens for a gun. (Credit: Osman Sağırlı)

You may have already seen the above photo. A young girl extends her arms up in the air as she looks fearfully into the lens. The accompanying story is that she, a Syrian refugee, mistook the camera lens for a gun and reacted to surrender.

What some people, including myself, thought was the photo may have been taken out of context. It was in a way too-sad-to-be true. Now the BBC confirms that the story is in fact right.

When photojournalist Nadia Abu Shaban posted the photo to twitter in late March, the internet’s collective heart broke. But it also raised some questions because the photographer was not credited. Humanosphere did not do a story on the photo because so little was known at the time.

Mis-attributed photos, videos and stories make the rounds on social media all the time. Recently, people, including U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice, mourn the death of Nigerian author Chinua Achebe – he actually died two years ago.

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Just this week a video of Nigerian soldiers dancing in celebration of the country’s successful democratic elections traveled around the internet. Now we know the video is not even from this year and it is likely not Nigerian soldiers either.

However, in the case of the Syrian refugee girl the photo is real. The BBC tracked down the person who took the photograph, Osman Sağırlı. He confirmed that a four-year-old girl rose her hands in surrender when he snapped the photo of her after making the 150 km journey from Hama to the Atmeh refugee camp.

“İ realized she was terrified after I took it, and looked at the picture, because she bit her lips and raised her hands. Normally kids run away, hide their faces or smile when they see a camera,” said Sağırlı to the BBC.

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The photo was immediately popular in Turkey after it was published in Sağırlı’s place of work, the newspaper Türkiye. It took the tweet from Shaban for it to reach a global audience.  But will it resonate with the world in a way that can spark change towards the protracted crisis caused by Syria’s civil war?

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About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.