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18th Nov 2015

Heartbreaking photo series of Syria’s refugee children

Trine Jensen-Burke

As a parent, there are few moments where you feel so utterly grateful and lucky as when you glance at your sleeping children, all safe and snug and warm in their beds.

Imagine, then, what it must feel like to see your child sleeping in an environment so very different than the above? When you know they are freezing, scared and maybe even hurt, and you have no warm bed, no home and no comfort to offer them? Imagine being that mum or dad…

Since 2011, more than 4 million Syrians have been forced from their homes in the face of the ongoing war in the country. Roughly half these are children.

Swedish photographer Magnus Wennman has been photographing Syrian refugees in refugee camps across the Middle East and on journeys across Europe as they flee a conflict that shows no signs of stopping. His photo project Where the Children Sleep captures the suffering that hundreds of thousands of children caught in bloody war have been subjected to.

It is truly heartbreaking.


Ahmed, 6, in Horgos, Serbia

“It is after midnight when Ahmed falls asleep in the grass. The adults are still sitting around, formulating plans for how they are going to get out of Hungary without registering themselves with the authorities. Ahmed is 6 years old and carries his own bag over the long stretches that his family walks by foot. “He is brave and only cries sometimes in the evenings,” says his uncle, who has taken care of Ahmed since his father was killed in their hometown, Deir ez-Zor in northern Syria.”


Ralia, 7, and Rahaf, 13, in Beirut, Lebanon

“Ralia, 7, and Rahaf, 13, live on the streets of Beirut. They are from Damascus, where a grenade killed their mother and brother. Along with their father they have been sleeping rough for a year. They huddle close together on their cardboard boxes. Rahaf says she is scared of “bad boys,” at which Ralia starts crying.”


Shehd, 7, on the Hungarian border

“Shehd loves to draw, but more recently all of her drawings have had the same theme: weapons. “She saw them all the time, they are everywhere,” explains her mother when the little girl sleeps on the ground alongside Hungary’s closed border. Now she does not draw at all. The family brought neither paper nor crayons with them on their flight. Shehd does not play anymore either. The escape has forced children to become adults and share concern for what happens in an hour or a day. The family has had difficulty finding food during their wandering. Some days they have had to make do with apples they were able to pick from trees along the road. If the family had known how hard the journey would be they would have chosen to risk their lives in Syria.”


Abdullah, 5, in Belgrade, Serbia

“Abdullah has a blood disease. For the last two days he has been sleeping outside of the central station in Belgrade. He saw the killing of his sister in their home in Daraa. He is still in shock and has nightmares every night, says his mother. Abdullah is tired and is not healthy, but his mother does not have any money to buy medicine for him.”


Fara, 2, in Azraq, Jordan

“Fara, 2, loves soccer. Her dad tries to make balls for her by crumpling up anything he can find, but they don’t last long. Every night he says goodnight to Fara and her big sister Tisam, 9, in the hope that tomorrow will bring them a proper ball to play with. All other dreams seem to be beyond his reach, but he is not giving up on this one.”


Ahmad, 7, in Horgos, Hungary

“Even sleep is not a free zone; it is then that the terror replays. Ahmad was home when the bomb hit his family’s house in Idlib. Shrapnel hit him in the head, but he survived. His younger brother did not. The family had lived with war as their nearest neighbor for several years, but without a home they had no choice. They were forced to flee. Now Ahmad lies among thousands of other refugees on the asphalt along the highway leading to Hungary’s closed border. This is day 16 of their flight. The family has slept in bus shelters, on the road, and in the forest, explains Ahmad’s father.”


Iman, 2, in Azraq, Jordan

“Iman, 2, has pneumonia and a chest infection. This is her third day in this hospital bed. “She sleeps most of the time now,” says her mother, Olah, 19. “Normally she’s a happy little girl, but now she’s tired. She runs everywhere when she’s well. She loves playing in the sand.”


Mahdi, 1½, in Horgos, Serbia

“Mahdi is 1½ years old. He has only experienced war and flight. He sleeps deeply despite the hundreds of refugees climbing around him. They are protesting against not being able to travel further through Hungary. On the other side of the border hundreds of police are standing. They have orders from the prime minister, Viktor Orban, to protect the border at all costs. The situation is becoming more desperate, and the day after the photo is taken, the police use tear gas and water cannons on the refugees.”


Tamam, 5, in Azraq, Jordan

“Five-year-old Tamam is scared of her pillow. She cries every night at bedtime. The air raids on her hometown of Homs usually took place at night, and although she has been sleeping away from home for nearly two years now, she still doesn’t realize that her pillow is not the source of danger.”


Lamar, 5, in Horgos, Serbia

“Back home in Baghdad the dolls, the toy train, and the ball are left; Lamar often talks about these items when home is mentioned. The bomb changed everything. The family was on its way to buy food when it was dropped close to their house. It was not possible to live there anymore, says Lamar’s grandmother, Sara. After two attempts to cross the sea from Turkey in a small, rubber boat they succeeded in coming here to Hungary’s closed border. Now Lamar sleeps on a blanket in the forest, scared, frozen, and sad.”


Moyad, 5, in Amman, Jordan

“Moyad, 5, and his mother needed to buy flour to make a spinach pie. Hand-in-hand they were on their way to the market. They walked past a taxi in which someone had placed a bomb. Moyad’s mother died instantly. The boy, who has been airlifted to Jordan, has shrapnel lodged in his head, back, and pelvis.”


Sham, 1, in Horgos, Serbia

In the very front, just alongside the border between Serbia and Hungary by the 4-meter-high iron gate, Sham is laying in his mother’s arms. Just a few decimeters behind them is the Europe they so desperately are trying to reach. Only one day before the last refugees were allowed through and taken by train to Austria. But Sham and his mother arrived too late, along with thousands of other refugees who now wait outside the closed Hungarian border.

How can we help?

If you, like us, are heartbroken by these images, here is an Irish Times compiled list of charities and NGOs that all work to help refugees in and from Syria:

Red Cross Appeal: The organisation continues to accept online donations for its Syrian Appeal, and is providing on-the-ground support to displaced people in Syria and in refugee camps in bordering countries such as Lebanon and Jordan. Money raised goes to providing medical care, clothes, food and blankets.

Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders): MSF currently has three search and rescue boats active in the Mediterranean. Humanitarian missions are currently ongoing in the conflict zones from which many of the refugees are fleeing.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR): The agency is tasked with safeguarding the rights and well-being of refugees, and is heavily involved in helping thousands of displaced families to restart their lives.

It is offering shelter and food to those arriving in Europe as well as to victims of war in the Middle East, and runs a resettlement programme.

UNICEF: Donations go towards emergency measures such as food and water for struggling children. Donate at

Goal: Goal is the largest international NGO operating in Syria, where it has been since 2012. It has 650 staff inside Syria, which its director of communications David Leach says benefits 1 million people every month. It has also collected 11,000 names to date for its #NowYouKnow petition, which calls on the EU to support refugees fleeing the conflict.