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These Heartbreaking Photos Show Where Refugee Children Sleep At Night

We often think of the refugees as a mass political problem, not individual tragedies. These glimpses into the lives of their children will change that.

When she’s asked about home, five-year-old Lamar remembers what she left behind in her bedroom in Baghdad, like a toy train and some dolls. After a bomb fell near her family’s house, they fled Iraq, and eventually made it from Turkey to Europe on a rubber dinghy. Now, while her family tries to find a new home, she’s sleeping on a thin blanket in the woods in Serbia.

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Thousands of miles away in a refugee camp in Lebanon, another five-year-old–this time from Syria–also wants to go home. She’s afraid to sleep at night because that’s when attacks have happened in the past. During the day, her mother builds pillow forts in an attempt to help her get over her fear of her bed.

Every night Fatima dreams that she’s falling from a ship. Together with her mother Malaki and her two siblings Fatima fled from the city of Idlib when the Syrian national army senselessly slaughtered civilians in the city. After two years in a refugee camp in Lebanon the situation became unbearable and they made it to Libya where they boarded an overcrowded boat. On the deck of the boat a very pregnant woman gave birth to her baby after 12 hours in the scorching sun. The baby was a stillbirth and was thrown overboard. Fatima saw everything. When the refugees’ boat started to take on water they were picked up by the Italian coastguard.

For the last eight months, photographer Magnus Wennman has traveled around Europe and the Middle East meeting refugee children and documenting one part of their life–where they sleep at night–as an attempt to remind the world how many young refugees don’t have safe places to live.

The series is on display at Fotografiska, a museum in Stockholm, where staff pulled together the exhibition in only two weeks as a way to help raise money for the UN Refugee Agency.

Of the 4 million refugees who fled Syria over the last few years, more than half are children. And despite a recent surge of support–including a Kickstarter campaign that raised $1.7 million–aid agencies have only a fraction of the money needed to take care of everyone. The money from Kickstarter, for example, can provide immediate help for about 7,000 people. Worldwide, there are now around 60 million refugees. The museum hopes the exhibit will inspire more people to help.

“We have adult men crying in the exhibition hall, we have fantastic conversations between people,” says Margita Ingwall, head of communications for Fotografiska. “This is an exhibition that can move mountains.”

About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.

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