“I was using a telephoto lens, and she thought it was a weapon,” photographer Osman Sağırlı told the BBC. “İ realized she was terrified after I took it, and looked at the picture, because she bit her lips and raised her hands. Normally kids run away, hide their faces or smile when they see a camera.”
Sağırlı’s image of a 4-year-old girl named Hudea in a Syrian refugee camp with her hands above her head “broke the internet’s heart” as the BBC put it.
[How the heart-wrenching photo of Syria’s surrendering child came to be]
The photograph, which was taken in late 2014, was first circulated on non-English language social media but more recently, spread quickly to English users. One tweet by Gaza-based photographer Nadia Abu Shabanone has been retweeted over 20,000 times. When the picture reached reddit, it received over 5,000 upvotes and over 1,600 comments. The Washington Post’s Abby Phillip sums it up well. “In that moment, in late 2014 at a Syrian refugee camp, she was immortalized as a symbol of the human toll that endless war and strife have taken on Syria’s displaced millions.”
Hudea has become a symbol but she is only one of 2 million Syrian child refugees according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Now entering in its fifth year, Syria’s civil war has killed some 220,000 people and displaced almost four million.
“With half of all school-aged refugee children and another 2 million in Syria out of school, the number of young people at risk is staggering.” said UNHCR head António Guterres. “They have already lost their childhoods to a terrible war and are now also facing lost futures.”
The UNCHR has documented the the plight of the children in photos.
Syrian Kurdish refugees cross into Turkey from Syria near the town of Kobane in September 2014. (I. Prickett /UNHCR) Nizal Hammid Jasim, age 14, is tended to by his mother (left) and a relative, after falling ill with a high fever and vomiting in August 2014. (I. Prickett/UNHCR) Syrian refugee Rahaf, age 10, pushes her brother and sister on a creaky metal swing in the impoverished neighborhood of Shatila in Beirut, Lebanon, on August 6, 2014. Rahaf, her sister Amani and brother Ahmed came to Lebanon with their family in June 2014. When Rahaf was in third grade a bomb fell on the playground of her school killing 13 students. Rahaf says she still vividly remembers the day and hasn’t been back to school since. (S. Baldwin / UNHCR) Mohammed, 7, was severely burned by a bombing on his home in Homs in 2012. Mohammed is pictured with his mother, Irsaa, at his family’s accommodation in Donnyeh, Lebanon, on June 27, 2014. When Mohammed was burned, Irssa remembers hearing a very loud blast and seeing smoke inside her home. When she ran to find her son, Mohammed had burns to most of his upper body. After returning from the hospital Mohammed had to regularly have his wounds cleaned and bandages changed for over a year. Irsaa said “He used to look down a this body and start to cry and scream.”
Irsaa came to Lebanon with her two sons in late 2013 and found refuge in a village in the Donnyeh area. Mohammed doesn’t play much with other kids since he cannot open his arms properly because of the disfigured skin. He need needs a series of operations and skin grafts to his arms and neck. Israa said “Maybe if he looks more normal he can learn how to become a kid once more.” (A. McConnell/UNHCR)
Ali, the youngest child of Inad Ali Furan, was born in a slaughterhouse where the family live in a small 2 room apartment. Originally from Homs, they fled to Lebanon soon after fighting broke out. Inad works with the owner of the slaughterhouse occasionally in order to reduce his rent. (I. Prickett/UNHCR) Yemen, 5, and her mother, Dayane, 24, pictured at their home in northern Lebanon, on June 27, 2014. On a cold night in November 2013, Yemen ran to the kitchen petrified from the sounds of the bombs that were falling around their house in Yabroud. In the commotion she ran into the stove and knocked into a pot of boiling water. Most of her body was burned.
Six days after the incident, the family sought refuge in Lebanon. “She is very traumatized, she is afraid of everybody and is always crying from pain” her mother said. “She still has a long way to go. She needs plastic surgery to graft skin from her body, but that is something I can never afford to give her here in Lebanon.” (A. McConnell / UNHCR)
In a former chicken barn in Mafraq, Jordan a collection of Syrian families have taken up residence in August 2014. Duha, 11, and Anwar, 9, and their little siblings stand in their family’s sleeping area. Although the building is old and the converted apartments basic, each family must pay a monthly rent of around $250. The bathrooms and kitchens abut one another and many people share the same sleeping rooms. ( J. Kohler/UNHCR) Mais and her younger sister Anaghem hold their dolls in Amman, Jordan in August 2014. Although the area where they live is very close to some of Amman’s biggest luxury hotels, their apartment is far from luxurious. Issues with sewage regulary impact the family. At the time of the visit, sewage was running down the stairs leading up to the house and a smell was in the whole area. The flaking paint and concrete behind the girls came from sewage seepage. (J. Kohler/UNHCR) Ahmad, 10, and his sister Marwa, 8, look out from the courtyard door of the house where their family is living in Karak, Jordan in July 2014. Originally from Homs, the family has found a place of safety in one of the run-down houses that remain from the housing built for newly arriving Palestinian refugees more than 60 years ago.
(J. Kohler /UNHCR)
Two young Syrian refugee kids walk through the rain at a settlement in Fayda, in Lebanon’s Bekaa valley. (I. Prickett/UNHCR) A young Syrian girl from Kobane. Her father’s hand can be seen inside a bus arriving at a transit point at the Ibrahim Khalil Border Crossing in Iraq in October 2014. (D. NAHR /UNHCR) Um Abdullah and her daughter Maysaa, 13, pack a suitcase in preparation for their journey to Germany for resettlement in April 2014.
Two of her children, Abdullah and Anwar, have thalassaemia, a condition in which the sufferer has fewer circulating red blood cells than normal and requires a blood transfusion every two to four weeks.
The family came to Lebanon in May 2012 after their home in Deraa was destroyed. The children’s parents quickly discovered that it was very hard to get the blood transfusions the children needed. Their father Khodr eventually ended up going from door to door to ask people to donate blood. Um Abdullah said:
“At the end, it was really hard to find the blood that my children needed. I used to take Abdullah and Anwar alone from Izra to the hospital in Daraa every couple of weeks. It is a 15 minute drive but the roads were unsafe, we were always afraid that my husband would get kidnapped that’s why I used to take them alone. We were once shot at and ordered to turn back but I couldn’t, my children were in desperate need of that blood.”
After two years in Lebanon and countless phone calls and knocking on strangers’ doors, with the help of UNHCR and IOM the family is resettling in Germany and Abdullah and Anwar will get the treatment they need. (Andrew McConnell / UNHCR)
After fleeing fighting in Kobane, Syrian Kurdish refugees wait in a holding area before boarding buses after crossing the border from Syria into Turkey in September 2014. (I. Prickett /UNHCR)