On Friday, Munzir El Nezzel, the man in the picture, and his son Mustafa arrived in Italy after a remarkable effort by the organisers of the Siena International Photo Awards to bring them and their family from Turkey, where they had fled after Syria. “We are coming, thank you,” the six-year-old Mustafa said, smiling broadly, in a video message recorded before he and his family — father, mother and his two sisters aged one and four — boarded a plane in Ankara on Thursday in fly to Italy. “We love Italia,” he then added.
The picture of Mustafa and his father, both with loving smiles, which was taken in January 2021 by the Turkish photographer Mehmet Aslan and called “Hardship of Life”, was declared photo of the year at the Siena awards last year. The emotional and shocking picture made headlines in Italy and spread internationally on social media, spurring the festival’s organisers to take action and start a fundraising drive to get treatment for father and son.
The festival’s organisers contacted diplomats, hospitals, rehabilitation centres and the Catholic diocese in Siena to host the Syrian family so that Mustafa and his father could get treatment and prosthetics. “The picture was beyond all imagination,” said Luca Venturi, an engineer who founded the Siena photography festival, which bestowed the award, about six years ago. “We thought we could also go beyond our fear of not being able to do anything for this family.” Like all countries, Italy can issue visas for humanitarian reasons, but refugees need to be sponsored by a local organisation that handles paperwork and provides financial support.Motivated by the success of the crowdfunding effort, the non-profit that organises the photography festival decided to sponsor the Syrian family. “It was a big dream for everybody,” Venturi said. Venturikept regular contact with El Nezzel via WhatsApp, using Google Translate to communicate in Arabic with the 33-year-old father of three.