THE contrast could not be more stark: in the tranquil setting of the main quadrangle at the University of St Andrews a series of pictures are on display depicting the human cost of Syria's brutal conflict.

They show harrowing images of injuries and death, refugees living in the most basic of conditions in tents, and aid workers risking their own lives to help others.

For photographer Ibrahim Malla, alerting the rest of the world to what is happening in Syria is an extremely personal mission. He is from Damascus, but left the city a year ago to escape the fighting and moved to Italy with his wife. He frequently returns to his home country – where members of his family still live – and to refugee camps to document the plight of his people's suffering and bring it to the attention of the world.

According to the United Nations, more than 1.6 million Syrians have now fled their country, with one million registered as refugees in the first six months of this year alone. Around three-quarters are woman and children, who usually arrive in refugee camps with little more than the clothes on their back.

Another five million people are also estimated to be displaced within Syria.

Malla, 42, an official photographer with the aid organisation Syrian Arab Red Crescent, last year visited the Zaatari camp in Jordan, a city of tents in the desert which is now home to around 140,000 people.

One of the pictures he took is of Nadia, a Syrian refugee who escaped to Jordan with her 16-year-old daughter and five-year-old twin sons, Ali and Omar. As both her sons are severely disabled, she was forced to carry them during a gruelling five-hour trek over mountains.

"It was a very touching story," Malla says. "She told us about having to carry her twins – who cannot walk – through the night.

"She actually reached a moment where she wanted to leave them behind because of the tension and tiredness. She was ready to let them go. Then when she passed the border she got the power to continue her journey." He adds: "This is just one of the stories that we saw, but all the families have their stories. Everyone has their own story, their own suffering."

The photographs capture the efforts by aid workers to help the injured and get vital supplies to communities in Syria. One photo taken in the Baba Amr district of the city of Homs – where Sunday Times reporter Marie Colvin and French photographer Remi Ochlik were killed – shows food rations being distributed in the midst of fighting.

"You can see in the background we had bombing on the other side of this street, so we had to take the food rations out and quickly evacuate the area because it was so dangerous," Malla says. "We had to evacuate in 10 minutes because of the bombs."

Pointing to faces in the photographs, he adds: "You can see how young the volunteers are – in their twenties."

Other pictures bring home just how dangerous such work is. Mohammad al-Khadra, a volunteer with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, is shown standing proudly in his uniform. Another image shows a broken window where a sniper's bullet entered the ambulance he was travelling in. In the another, his body is being carried by mourners at his funeral.

Malla says: "He had one bullet in the heart and his (Red Crescent) emblem was very clear. The sniper wanted to kill him. It was only one bullet."

He also points to one of the men who is carrying al-Khadra's body at his funeral. "This man was another volunteer – here he is carrying his friend," he says. "He was killed four months after the funeral."

Twenty volunteers with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent were killed in two years, Malla adds. Overall, the conflict has claimed at least 93,000 lives, according to estimates published earlier this month. The UN said at least 5000 have died in Syria every month since last July and the deaths of more than 1700 children under the age of 10 have been documented.

Malla was supported by the British Red Cross to bring his exhibition to the University of St Andrews last week.

The visit coincided with Refugee Week Scotland and a two-day conference held by the university's Centre for Syrian Studies to discuss the drivers and dynamics involved in the conflict. But the photographer stresses that a key aspect of his role is that the Syrian Arab Red Crescent – like all other Red Cross and Red Crescent organisations – is firmly politically neutral.

"It is a good opportunity for me to be here during Refugee Week, with these photos of the biggest number of refugees in the world – the Syrians – to show people the suffering and the needs of this humanitarian crisis," he adds.

Malla has taken his photographs round other cities in Europe, holding exhibitions in Italy, Germany and Switzerland to raise awareness of the situation in his home country. He says it means he feels he is doing something to help his people. "It was one of my aims to go to Zaatari to document what is happening, to let people know and to ask for more help," he says. "But I was shy to take the photographs; to see my people in this situation was so difficult.

"The Syrian people are not used to camps – when people (refugees) were coming to us in Syria, we were not sending them to camps, but they were living among us. We have had Iraqi, Palestinian, Jordanian and Lebanese people, but we didn't have one tent for them.

"It was shocking for me to see Syrian people in the tents and suffering. They were always asking for food and humanitarian aid, they need a lot."

Like millions of others, Malla, who is now based in Milan, hopes that he will be able to permanently return to Syria one day soon. He tells how he married his wife Silvia Elzi on the condition she moved from Italy to live in Damascus, as he could not bear to leave his country.

He says: "We used to be happy in Syria – the Syrian people, the weather, the food – everything is nice, everything is perfect for us. I will go back for sure – even my wife is waiting to go back.

"No-one knows when the conflict is going to end – this is the problem. What we are sure about is the human crisis is growing bigger and bigger day by day."

The British Red Cross is running a Syria Crisis Appeal, which had raised around £1.8 million by the beginning of June.

Derek Masterton, spokesman for British Red Cross in Scotland, said: "The British Red Cross has a long-standing partnership with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, and has provided support through staff members who have worked either within Syria or the border countries to support Red Cross and Red Crescent operations.

"Money raised by the appeal will support the work of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent in both the short and medium-term."

He added: "Ibrahim has worked extensively with the Red Cross within Syria and in refugee camps in neighbouring countries. His photographs eloquently reflect the plight of the people of Syria and illustrate their urgent need for humanitarian assistance.

"We are delighted that Ibrahim was able to take the opportunity to exhibit some of his photographs at St Andrews."