Not just a number: A refugee in Europe

Story highlights

  • Ines Dumig's photo series "Apart Together" follows a Somali refugee living in Germany
  • The underlying themes include isolation and "otherness" and the search for human dignity

(CNN)Editor's Note: Ines Dumig was recently announced as a CENTER Grant Recipient.

Sahra, a Somali refugee, left her home at 14 years old.
Throughout her journey in search of asylum, she managed to overcome dangers and discomforts. But she never gave up, and she continuously reminded herself to keep going.
    She's the focus of Ines Dumig's photo series "Apart Together."
    Dumig met Sahra through a photo workshop at Refugio, a shelter in Munich, Germany, for refugees and torture victims. What drew Dumig to Sahra specifically was her strength and her ability to effectively reflect on all of her experiences.
    "It really impressed me how she deals with everything," Dumig said. "She's strong in her way of connecting with the culture here and also reflecting on what happened, the culture where she comes from."
    The number of refugees seeking asylum in the European Union increased by 25% last year, with Germany receiving the most applications.
    Photographer Ines Dumig
    One of the reasons Dumig decided to photograph Sahra is because growing up in Germany made Dumig realize that she lived a fortunate lifestyle. Another reason has to do with Dumig's interest in people's emotions and finding one's identity.
    "I realized so many people want to come to Europe, and I always had the feeling to disappear or to go away," Dumig said. "Seeing how people live in other parts of the world made me realize how privileged I am."
    "Apart Together" serves not only as a documentation of Sahra, but as a far-reaching story about people from all backgrounds. The title of Dumig's work refers to the fact that although people may be physically apart from one another, the comparable feelings they experience are what link all people together.
    "Sometimes we feel strong, sometimes we feel lost -- that's kind of universal, I think," Dumig said. "That's why I want to universalize (Sahra's) story as well, not only make it about her."
    The underlying themes of "Apart Together" include the feelings of isolation and "otherness" and the search for a valuable human dignity.

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    "Every one of these (refugees) have strong stories, and in the bureaucratic system, they are just a number or a document," Dumig said. "But they are a person, they are people with emotions and lives."
    Sahra is currently under the status of "suspension of deportation," meaning German immigration officials may grant her discretionary relief from deportation. Dumig describes Sahra as someone living through an unresolved situation.
    Regardless of the challenges Sahra faces as a refugee in Germany, she is a survivor and the embodiment of resilience, determined to establish a new life for herself. She has learned to speak German fluently, and she has started working in the nation as well.
    Like an unsolved photographic puzzle, each photo within "Apart Together" provides a piece of insight into Sahra's experiences. There is no certain and clear way in which to arrange the pieces, because they are a representation of the fragmented nature of Sahra's life.
    Many of Dumig's photos are not of Sahra herself, but instead show her surroundings. This makes "Apart Together" rich in symbolism and challenges viewers to develop their own perceptions. The photos are powerful because of this symbolic nature, as there are infinite interpretations attached to each one.
    "I think everyone interprets by themselves, by however way they perceive it through their own experience. That's up to the viewer," Dumig said. "It depends on who looks at the pictures. ... Everyone will see something different."
    "Apart Together" allowed Dumig to share various special moments with Sahra, and they were both able to learn from each other.
    "It was just something we both got something out of," Dumig said.