Celia Peterson

On the fringes of Lebanese society is the Dom community who’s origins go back to India from where they originally migrated to the Middle East and now reside in countries including Lebanon, Syria and Turkey.

They suffer from extreme poverty and social marginalization despite having been granted Lebanese citizenship in 1994. They have little access to health, education, formal employment and adequate housing. Despite having rescinded a nomadic lifestyle, many still face discrimination with a third surviving on less than a dollar a day. Having led a nomadic life until the mid/late 20th century, they are now largely sedentary. Yet the Dom from Syria are on the move again, this time not to practice their crafts and trades but to flee from a ruthless conflict with no end in sight. They sought asylum in the neighbouring countries including Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. Many now live amongst other refugees in informal tented settlements in Lebanon.

Many Dom choose to hide their ethnic origins to avoid discrimination and are often confused with the Bedouins and other ethnic groups. Their language, Domari, is fast disappearing as they choose to converse with their children in Arabic. As their children become educated and their original nomadic lifestyle becomes sedentary, so their traditional way of life changes.

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Beirut, Lebanon - 15/10/2016: Mohamed watches as his friend Ali cuts Mohamed's hair. Ali's older brother is a barber and has taught him the trade, the Hayy Al Gharbeh area of Beirut.

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Beirut, Lebanon - 15/10/2016: 16 year old Mohamed has lived in the Hayy Al Gharbeh area for 10 years. His father works at a local ice cream shop and his mother is a housewife. Although Mohamed does not speak to the Dom lanauge, both his grandmother and mother speak Domari fluently.

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Jadra, Lebanon - 15/10/2016: The family outside their home in Jadra. The family do up the house room by room.

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Jadra, Lebanon - 15/10/2016: Diala (left) and Khaldieh outside their family home. Their family do up the house room by room as and when they can afford it. They do not attend school as her family cannot afford the transportation. Many of the older Dom are illiterate so they don’t know how to register their children in school, even though they have the right to go to government schools. Their kids often face discrimination at these schools and are called “Nawar”, a negative term for the Dom with connotations of being dirty and of low morality. With little support network at home due to the generational effects of poverty, the kids tend to fail at school.

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Jadra, Lebanon - 15/10/2016: Ali in the living room of his home in Jadra.

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Beirut, Lebanon - 15/10/2016: Mohamed with his baby sibling and friend Hussein in the Hayy Al Gharbeh area of Beirut.

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Bekaa Valley, Lebanon - 15/10/2016: 85 years old Sharifi had tattoos produced on her hands and face when she was 10. The Dom used to be famous for this but the new generation no longer practices this tradition. In Syria she lived in a tent with no chairs and moved into a concrete home when she was married at 15 years of age. She speaks Domari and is now living in a tented settlement in the Bekaa valley: “We had everything in Syria, now we have nothing. We are happy.”

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Beirut, Lebanon - 15/10/2016: Overview of the Hayy Al Gharbeh area where a large number of the Lebanese and now Syrian Dom community live. Many of the Dom community still struggle to access healthcare even though they have a legal right. In Hayy al Gharbeh alone, there are estimated to be around 10,000 Dom. The area has seen an increase in the community with the arrival of the Syrian Dom fleeing war. The families are increasingly desperate, many having experienced trauma as well as children having missed out on years of education.

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Bekaa Valley, Lebanon - 15/10/2016: 85 years old Sharifi had tattoos produced on her hands and face when she was 10. The Dom used to be famous for this but the new generation no longer practices this tradition. In Syria she lived in a tent with no chairs and moved into a concrete home when she was married at 15 years of age. She speaks Domari and is now living in a tented settlement in the Bekaa valley: “We had everything in Syria, now we have nothing. We are happy.”

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Beirut, Lebanon - 15/10/2016: Mohamed doing a handstand in his home in the Hayy Al Gharbeh area of Beirut.

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Beirut, Lebanon - 15/10/2016: Kids playing in the Hayy Al Gharbeh area where a large number of the Lebanese and now Syrian Dom community live. Many of the Dom community still struggle to access healthcare even though they have a legal right. In Hayy al Gharbeh alone, there are estimated to be around 10,000 Dom. The area has seen an increase in the community with the arrival of the Syrian Dom fleeing war. The families are increasingly desperate, many having experienced trauma as well as children having missed out on years of education.

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Beirut, Lebanon - 15/10/2016: A roof in the Hayy Al Gharbeh area where a large number of the Lebanese and now Syrian Dom community live. Many of the Dom community still struggle to access healthcare even though they have a legal right. In Hayy al Gharbeh alone, there are estimated to be around 10,000 Dom. The area has seen an increase in the community with the arrival of the Syrian Dom fleeing war. The families are increasingly desperate, many having experienced trauma as well as children having missed out on years of education.

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Beirut, Lebanon - 15/10/2016: Dom boys in the Hayy Al Gharbeh area which houses a large number of the Lebanese and now Syrian Dom community.

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Beirut, Lebanon - 15/10/2016: Dom children in the Hayy Al Gharbeh area of Beirut.

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Beirut, Lebanon - 15/10/2016: 9 year old Hussein outside his home with his pet cat in the Hayy Al Gharbeh area. Hussein goes to a local education centre next door to his house to study. Many Dom children, despite having been granted Lebanese citizenship, struggle to gain entry to the public school system due to the effects of generational poverty and if they do go often leave because of the discrimination they face from other children.

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Bekaa Valley, Lebanon - 15/10/2016: 7 year old Muaz checks a phone in the family's simple tented home in the Bekaa valley. He is home schooled by his mother. Salaama in the background is unregistered with no official papers as her mother did not realise she had to do this before a child reaches one year in age.

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Bekaa Valley, Lebanon - 15/10/2016: 23 year old Khuloud lives in Beirut in the Hayy Al Gharbeh area but travels to the Bekaa valley regularly to visit her family. She is unsure of the Dom community's roots: "There is talk we originated from there [India], but we don't know anybody who came from there." The Domari language that she speaks with her family has some similarities with Farsi. Khuloud, photographed here at her family’s home in a tent situated in the Bekaa valley, where the owner of the land allowed them to stay for free when he saw how they had cleaned and decorated the tent.

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Bekaa Valley, Lebanon - 15/10/2016: 13 year old Khaled with his father Hasan in their tent in Al Merj tented settlement in the Bekaa valley. Khaled used to attend school but as they put him down a year due to missing school in Syria, his mother removed him altogether. Hasan makes this traditional Dom instrument, the Rababa and sells them across Lebanon at markets. He gets 10 usd per instrument. Some of his instruments are exported for sale in Saudi Arabia.

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Beirut, Lebanon - 15/10/2016: The traditional Dom instrument, a 'Rababa'.

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Bekaa Valley, Lebanon - 15/10/2016: Hasna 'reading' coffee patterns in her tent in the Al Merj tented settlement in the Bekaa valley. Married at 14 or 15, she had 17 children, 5 of whom have since passed away.

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Jadra, Lebanon - 15/10/2016: Sobhi, 31 years old, with his friend in his house in Jadra. Sobhi is a waiter in Beirut. His wife cleans the house of a family near by to their home. They have 4 kids who sometimes experience discrimination at school, he tells them just to ignore it. "I want people to know we are good people, we should not be immediately criticised as Dom."

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Bekaa Valley, Lebanon - 15/10/2016: Making the traditional traditional Dom instrument, Rababhi in the Bekaa Valley.