Child refugees scarred by war

Story highlights

  • Syria's crisis has had a profound effect on its children
  • Magnus Wennman photographed many of them as they slept in refugee camps

(CNN)When Swedish photographer Magnus Wennman puts his 5-year-old son to sleep at night, he knows how important it is for his son to feel safe as he goes to bed.

But when he started taking photos of the thousands of children fleeing the war in Syria, he realized an overwhelming amount of children went to bed afraid.
The rise of ISIS, coupled with a civil war, has forced 10.6 million Syrians from their homes since 2011. Many Syrians have joined the deluge of refugees seeing asylum in Europe, while others are living in refugee camps in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.
Wennman visited refugee camps earlier this year as a staff photographer for the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet.
Photographer Magnus Wennman
"I was struck by the children there; they are the most innocent," said Wennman, who believes it is difficult for outsiders to care about a conflict that has been going on for years and may be hard to understand.
    "But there is nothing hard to understand about how children need a safe place to sleep," he said. "That is easy to understand. Nothing is too complicated about that."
    Wennman also went to Serbia, Hungary and Greece, photographing as many Syrian children as he could for his collection "Where the Children Sleep."
    "They have lost some hope," Wennman noted. "It takes very much for a child to stop being a child and to stop having fun, even in really bad places."

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    One poignant memory from Wennman's journey was when he arrived in Hungary a day after the country had closed their borders.
    "They put up a 4-meter-high (13-foot-high) metal fence," Wennman recalled. "To see the ones who arrived too late, who were stuck behind the gate and so desperate, it was heartbreaking. Children were sleeping outside the gates of Hungary."
    This collection became a job unlike any other for Wennman, who has traveled the world on various assignments.
    "You are taught you have to turn off your feeling and use your camera as protection," he said.
    But capturing the haunting and serene images of Syrian children affected Wennman and made this experience different.
    "This time, this project was really personal," he said. "I tried to do this series with a lot of respect, and I hope it shows."