From the Middle East to West Africa, children have risked death to flee conflict. Not since World War II have there been more child refugees. Numbering more than 10 million worldwide, it can be easy to lose sight of the human stories behind the statistics. This World Refugee Day, we want to change that.
Through this series of powerful photos and quotes, we introduce you to some of the children who make up that alarming figure. Discover first-hand what forced them from their homes and what their hopes and fears for the future are. SOS Children's Villages is on-the-ground helping hundreds of thousands of these vulnerable child refugees.
Rahman, nine, and his little brother, Yusuf, seven, have never been to school. Just four and two years old when the Syrian war broke out, their childhoods have been destroyed by the brutal conflict.
“We left Syria because it is impossible to live there anymore,” explains their uncle. “There are snipers everywhere. We so desperately want the boys to be well educated but we lived in Homs and we couldn’t let them walk to school each day and not know if they would ever come back.”
2.6 million Syrian children have been forced to abandon their education. Many of them have never step foot in a classroom.
Naya hasn’t smiled in weeks. At just four-years-old, she has already been through more than most 40-year-olds. Together with her mum, dad and baby brother, Omar, she fled Aleppo, Syria when the fighting there reached the street they lived on. After surviving the treacherous journey to Europe, they are now refugees stuck in Macedonia.
The Child-Friendly Space run by SOS Children’s Villages has become a safe haven. Naya is able to paint and draw and her mum has received a much-needed baby pack full of nappies, disposal bags, talcum powder, nappy cream and wipes. “It has made life so much easier,” she says.
“Life is very bad in Iraq,” says the dad of Meleka, 3. “There are bombs every day. When you leave home you don’t know if you’ll come back.”
This small family has been on the road for many months now. Meleka’s little legs are very tired but she doesn’t complain. One in three refugees in Europe are children like Meleka – children who should be playing and laughing and enjoying their childhoods instead of walking long distances every day and living in makeshift tents on the side of dusty roads.
“Her name means angel,” says her dad affectionately. “We had to run for her – bad people had started taking children and asking for money. It’s a big thing in Baghdad now. I couldn’t risk it – my daughter is my life.”
“I want to get to Norway, I’ve heard it’s a safe country,” says Rasha, 13. “We can build a new life there and have a future.” For the past five years her life has been nothing but a blur of bombings, shootings and, more recently, lots and lots of walking.
“We are from Aleppo in Syria,” she explains. “My mum is a history teacher and I have two little brothers. My dad was a police officer. We’ve been travelling for a month now – by boat, bus, train and on foot. My dad drowned at sea when the boat overturned. It’s been very difficult.”
More than 200,000 refugees and migrants have arrive in Europe by sea so far in 2016. 2,856 others, like Rasha’s dad, have not been so lucky.
Salifou was 13 when his family was massacred in front of him in his village in south-eastern Nigeria.
“My parents were farmers. Our father sent us out to get food for our livestock. On our way we heard screams coming from the neighbourhood. We immediately ran home. As we entered the lawn we met two armed people. My parents were lying dead in a pool of blood. They then turned and fired on us, killing my brothers,” he says.
Traumatised and terrified he fled over the border into Niger where he now lives in a refugee camp. He is one of nearly 2.5 million refugees and internally displaced people who have poured into the Diffa region of Niger since 2013. An estimated 9,000 of the refugees are unaccompanied children, like Salifou. The crisis in Niger is huge yet it has been largely forgotten by the world’s media.
You can change the life of a refugee child.