67 years stateless

Palestinian children playing on the roof of an apartment block. Shatila was set up by the International Committee of the Red Cross to accommodate hundreds of refugees from northern Palestine who arrived after 1948. According to the United Nations Relief a
Palestinian children playing on the roof of an apartment block. Shatila was set up by the International Committee of the Red Cross to accommodate hundreds of refugees from northern Palestine who arrived after 1948. According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, about 450,000 refugees are registered with it in Lebanon, with many living in the country’s 12 refugee camps. PHOTOS: ZANN HUIZHEN HUANG
A resident hauling his newly purchased second-hand sofa set up to his dwelling with the help of neighbours. The staircases in most apartment buildings are too narrow for bulky items such as refrigerators or big pieces of furniture to get through, so this
A resident hauling his newly purchased second-hand sofa set up to his dwelling with the help of neighbours. The staircases in most apartment buildings are too narrow for bulky items such as refrigerators or big pieces of furniture to get through, so this is how large items are brought home.
This Syrian family fled the civil war back home and now stay in Shatila refugee camp in Beirut, Lebanon, because the rent is cheapest there.
This Syrian family fled the civil war back home and now stay in Shatila refugee camp in Beirut, Lebanon, because the rent is cheapest there.
Empty bullet casings collected by a child. Gun violence and stabbings are common occurrences in and around the camp.
Empty bullet casings collected by a child. Gun violence and stabbings are common occurrences in and around the camp.
A videographer filming a wedding couple in an apartment. On the wall is a Palestine flag as well as a picture of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
A videographer filming a wedding couple in an apartment. On the wall is a Palestine flag as well as a picture of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
A seamstress chatting with her friends outside her home in a narrow lane, which also doubles as a workspace.
A seamstress chatting with her friends outside her home in a narrow lane, which also doubles as a workspace.
A makeshift stall selling toffee apples and fruit. Many refugees set up small stalls to earn an income as jobs are hard to come by.
A makeshift stall selling toffee apples and fruit. Many refugees set up small stalls to earn an income as jobs are hard to come by.
A scooter passing a resident eating outside her home. Unemployment is high as refugees are discriminated against in the Lebanese job market.
A scooter passing a resident eating outside her home. Unemployment is high as refugees are discriminated against in the Lebanese job market.
Almost 10,000 Palestinian refugees are registered as living in Shatila, but since the civil war in Syria broke out, Syrian refugees have increased the number of occupants in the camp to as many as 22,000.
Almost 10,000 Palestinian refugees are registered as living in Shatila, but since the civil war in Syria broke out, Syrian refugees have increased the number of occupants in the camp to as many as 22,000.
A typical scene in a back alley in the camp, with water hoses and electrical wires hanging haphazardly from buildings. Piped water is salty and potable water has to be purchased. This part of Beirut suffers from daily power cuts.
A typical scene in a back alley in the camp, with water hoses and electrical wires hanging haphazardly from buildings. Piped water is salty and potable water has to be purchased. This part of Beirut suffers from daily power cuts.
A Palestinian girl playing with balloons. Space for children to play is tight in the overcrowded camp. On the right, a refugee from Syria has set up a makeshift stall.
A Palestinian girl playing with balloons. Space for children to play is tight in the overcrowded camp. On the right, a refugee from Syria has set up a makeshift stall.
A typical section of Shatila which gets very little sunlight as buildings are bunched very close together – sometimes just 1m apart – in the 1 sq km camp.
A typical section of Shatila which gets very little sunlight as buildings are bunched very close together – sometimes just 1m apart – in the 1 sq km camp.

A Singapore photojournalist records life at Shatila refugee camp in Lebanon

BY ALL counts, photojournalist Zann Huizhen Huang has had a typical Singaporean life growing up.

The 39-year-old was born here, grew up in the heartlands and went to local schools.

But the normalcy ends there.

The freelancer, who is single, has travelled to about 20 countries with a camera in hand, documenting life, social injustices and humanity on the other side of the lens.

Huang, a self-taught photographer, felt the impetus to become a photojournalist during a backpacking trip in tsunami-ravaged regions in 2005.

"I plunged myself straight into the aftermath of the tsunami in Indonesia and Sri Lanka solo and without any formal education in photojournalism and it was the perfect training ground for me," says the eldest child of four in her family.

She adds: "I figured out the best thing I could do was to cover issues which were under-addressed."

Huang may have felt her calling in Asia, but it was the turbulent Middle East that became the focus of her professional life.

Her works there include topics like the role of women in Iran, cave-dwellers in Afghanistan and refugees in Lebanon.

A graduate in comparative literature and film studies from the University of Kent in Britain, she is convinced of the ripple effects that Middle-East affairs have on the rest of the world, including South-east Asia.

In January, she returned to Lebanon to continue a long-term project on the Shatila refugee camp in Beirut.

Her fascination with the subject has seen her visit the camp seven times since 2010.

"It is important to be reminded that they are the longest standing refugees in the world - 67 years of being stateless," she says.

She was awarded a mentorship by prestigious photo agency Magnum in 2012 and a grant in 2014 to continue her project on Shatila.

Her travels and experiences may appear to some to be romantic, but the challenges are anything but.

Being a lone female traveller in largely patriarchal societies has gotten her unwanted attention - a bane of documentary photographers trying to blend into the community.

But Huang explains that there are times when being a foreign woman has helped.

She cited how she was once invited to have tea with a group of Afghan men, which would have been taboo if she had been local.

Her tenacity has paid off.

In the last decade, her works have been published in major publications such as Time, Le Monde and Geo.

Her works have also been exhibited in countries such as Australia, Bulgaria and Denmark.

She is currently juggling several projects, including some about heritage in Singapore.

She says: "I simply love what I do and never felt it even when it gets tough. It is only when I am not doing photojournalism that I feel the most pain."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 27, 2015, with the headline '67 years stateless'. Print Edition | Subscribe