Haunting Photos Show Where Refugee Children Sleep

The award-winning photos show the true toll the ongoing crisis has on the next generation.

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This is Iman’s third day in the hospital bed. The usually happy, rambunctious two-year-old has pneumonia and a chest infection.
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Mohammed, age 13, still dreams of becoming an architect, even while lying in a hospital bed. Originally from Aleppo, he has seen his favorite buildings completely destroyed.
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Back home in Damascus, Ralia,7, and Rahaf, 13, lost their mother and brother to a grenade. For a year, they’ve slept on the streets of Beirut, where they fled with their father.
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Amir was born a refugee. Although he is almost two years old, his mother says he has never spoken a word. She believes he was traumatized in the womb.
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For Walaa, 5, bedtime brings on memories of attacks in her hometown of Aleppo. Her mother uses pillows to build forts for her, trying to prove that nighttime is nothing to be afraid of now.
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While the adults make plans to evade the authorities in Hungary, Ahmed, 6, sleeps in the grass. After his father was killed in northern Syria, Ahmed has been walking with his family, carrying his own bag.
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One-year-old Sham is cradled by his mother, only inches from the closed Hungarian border. The day before, they narrowly missed getting onto a train taking refugees to Austria.
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A bomb destroyed Lamar’s home in Baghdad, but she still remembers her toys. With her family, she crossed the sea from Turkey into Hungary and now sleeps on a blanket in a cold forest.
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Two-year-old Fara left behind her home as well as her true love—soccer. Her father tries to keep her love for the sport alive by crumpling anything he can into a ball.
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Mahdi is a year and a half old and has only known war and flight. While he sleeps, hundreds of refugees around him argue with Hungarian police at the border. When he wakes up, the police will assault the refugees with tear gas and water cannons.
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Most of what we’ve seen from the mass movement of refugees and migrants in the Middle East is chaos—crowds of people crossing seas in too-small boats, then clamoring to be allowed through border checkpoints, and sometimes running from guards armed with guns and water cannons. In the middle of this cacophony, photographer Magnus Wennman turned to the quiet moments.

The photos in Wennman’s series Where the Children Sleep show the individual suffering of the youngest refugees. The project recently won third place in the People/Stories division of the 2016 World Press Photo Contest.

More than 2.4 million Syrian children are living as refugees, according to UNICEF. That’s a little more than half of the total number of refugees who have fled Syria, and many more migrants have left other Middle Eastern countries to avoid conflict, poverty, and famine.

Many of these children carry their belongings and walk for long stretches at a time, others work menial jobs to earn money for their families. Plenty of them are sick and hungry. They’ve lost their parents, their homes, and their chance for an education. And as Wennman shows us, these children have even lost a privilege many of us take for granted—a peaceful bedtime.

In an interview with CNN last fall, Wennman acknowledged that the politics of the refugee crisis can be difficult to understand. “But,” he said, “there is nothing hard to understand about how children need a safe place to sleep." 

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