Turkish photographer Mehmet Aslan captured an emotional image of a father playing with his five-year-old son in January 2021. It quickly became an international sensation and drastically changed the lives of the couple and their family.
Munzir El Nezzel, the man pictured, lost his right leg when a bomb fell as he walked through a market in Syria in 2014. And his son Mustafa was born limbless due to a disorder caused by the medication her mother, Zeynep, had to take after she was sickened by a deadly sarin gas attack during the country’s civil war.
The powerful image, showing Munzir lifting Mustafa above his head while leaning on crutches, has been shared widely on social media after it was declared photo of the year at the Siena international photo awards in 2021.
Mustafa and his father quickly made headlines in Italy, prompting organizers of the Siena Awards to launch a campaign to get the couple treatment and prostheses. To date, the Fundraising received £144,000 in donations.
Now Munzir’s family is starting a new life in Italy. When the photo was taken, they were in a refugee camp in Turkey near the Syrian border. Mustafa and his father needed urgent medical help and prostheses which were not available in Turkey.
In January, Munzir and Mustafa, accompanied by their mother and two younger sisters aged two and four, arrived at Leonardo da Vinci airport in Fiumicino, near Rome. Father and son received medical help from the Vigorso di Budrio prosthetic center in Bologna.
Organizers of the Siena Awards thanked everyone who donated to the campaign and announced, “The dream of giving little Mustafa and his father Munzir a better life is beyond imagination. The two protagonists of the photo that struck the whole world and made the hearts of thousands of people beat faster are now in Italy.
The image’s impact was felt from afar, with the UN special envoy and actress Angelina Jolie even sharing the image on her social media accounts.
Then comes the road to recovery for Munzir and a longer road for Mustafa, who is learning to live with artificial limbs. Despite the challenges ahead, father and son no doubt have the support of the Italian community behind them.