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A jacket from his father kept Sebastian warm when he fled at age seven.

UNHCR/Brian Sokol

The Most Important Thing

They fled Angola nearly empty-handed. Now finally returning home, some after decades in exile, 11 refugees present their most cherished belongings.

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  • Photos by
    Brian Sokol
  • Written by
    Céline Schmitt
5 February 2016 5 February 2016
Democratic Republic of the Congo

If war and violence tore apart your country and you were forced to suddenly run for your life, what would you bring with you?

American photographer Brian Sokol, working with UNHCR staff around the world, has posed this question to hundreds of people who have experienced this terror first-hand. The resulting photo project, “The Most Important Thing,” provides surprising and thoughtful answers to this question.

The latest installment in the series focuses on Angolan refugees in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), offering a twist as Sokol shifts from photographing newly arrived refugees to others who have been displaced for as long as 50 years. Amazingly, many of these long-time refugees still possess the items they took when they fled, having saved them as reminders of lost loved ones or of a way of life gone forever. With Angola at peace since 2002, and with prosperity on the rise, many Angolan refugees hope to bring these items full circle on the journey home. Others have new objects they plan to take home to help start their new lives.

Past subjects of this project have included Malian refugees in Burkina Faso; Syrian refugees in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan; Sudanese in South Sudan; and Central Africans in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.