These Photos of Syria’s Children Put a Face on the Humanitarian Crisis in the Middle East

‘The Children of Syria,’ a documentary photography exhibition on display in Washington, presents a stark case of the challenges refugees confront

Syrian refugee children wait to be picked up from al Dalhamiyeh settlement to work as farmhands in potato fields. The children earn $4 to $8 per day, depending on whether they work a single or double shift, and typically $3 of each child’s daily wage is given to the refugee settlement chief who organizes the work. Kate Brooks
Syrian refugee children in the Bekka Valley. In Lebanon there are currently over a half million school aged Syrian refugees. Many of them are unable to access education. Syrian children confront obstacles of being refugees in unfamiliar countries, but also face schools taught in English and French, rather than Arabic. Kate Brooks
Shadi, 9, was injured by shrapnel from an unidentified explosion while crossing the border from Syria to Lebanon. More than half of the Syrian refugee population are said to be children. Kate Brooks
Syrian refugees sell small goods at sunset inside the Zaatari refugee camp, about 60 kilometers outside of Amman.
Amman, Jordan, October 2012 Tara Todras-Whitehill
A woman sits inside her family's room as the Turkish national flag hangs on the window at an old cigar factory that was converted into a Syrian refugee camp 50 kilometers from Antakya in southern Turkey near the border with Syria.
Yayladagi, Turkey, March 2012 Tara Todras-Whitehill
A mother brushes her child's hair inside their family's room at a refugee camp. Many families work hard to maintain some semblance of normal life despite being forced to leave their homes and resettle in camps in neighboring countries.
Yayladagi, Turkey, March 2012 Tara Todras-Whitehill
A Syrian boy plays on a fence at the refugee camp at the King Abdullah Gardens inside the town of Ramtha.
July 2012 Tara Todras-Whitehill
A man throws his daughter into the air inside a Syrian refugee camp 25km from Antakya in southern Turkey near the border with Syria.
Boynuyogun, Turkey, March 2012 Tara Todras-Whitehill
Um Nabil (alias), fled Homs in a bread truck. From there she was taken closer to the border with Lebanon and then crossed illegally. The trip took her one week. Kate Brooks
Halid (alias), age 9 arrived from Homs in March 2012. He is not attending school, nor is his family able to access or buy the medication that is needed for his skin disease. Kate Brooks
Children are collected at 6 a.m. to work in the potato fields. Across the Bekaa Valley Syrian refugee children work as farmhands, earning $4 or $8 per day, depending on whether they work a single or double shift. Typically $3 of each child’s daily wage is given to the refugee settlement chief who organizes the work. In Lebanon there are currently over a half million school aged Syrian refugees, and many of them are unable to access education. Kate Brooks
Um Karim (alias), 30, fled Syria after gunmen forced her to leave her home. She left the country with nothing, not even her family's identification papers. She struggles to feed her seven children in the mountain village where she is taking refuge. She doesn’t have enough blankets or heating to stay warm. Kate Brooks

Photographs can bring humanity to situations that are hard to fathom and imagine. March marked three years since the start of conflict in Syria. Pro-democracy protestors were met with violence from the government in 2011, and the problems show little sign of abating. Since the conflict began, 5.7 million children have had their lives negatively affected. Ten thousand have been killed, and many more have suffered injuries. But facts like this are difficult to digest on their own. The Children of Syria brings the work of six international photojournalists together in the rotunda of the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C..

The photographers have been documenting the problems facing Syrian children and refugee camps for various publications. ART WORKS, a non-profit organization that looks to use the arts to raise awareness about human rights issues, pulled their works together for a special exhibition held at the seat of power in Washington. The six contributors are:

  • Lynsey Addario has traveled across the Middle East photographing Syria's Refugees and other humanitarian issues. 
  • Kate Brooks photographed her first assignment on Syrian refugees in Lebanon for UNICEF in 2012 and has been alternating her time between documenting the lives of Syrian refugees and conservation issues for the last year. 
  • Bassam Khabieh, a Syrian photojournalist with Reuters, began documenting what was happening in his home.
  • Javier Manzano is a Mexican photographer based in the Middle East who covered the Syrian uprising.
  • Ayman Oghanna has worked as a photojournalist in Syria and throughout the Arab world. 
  • And Tara Todras-Whitehill began a project on the communities surrounding the refugee camps in Turkey two years ago and later traveled to Jordan to document refugee camps for the New York Times

As Brooks explained in an email, "Over the past two years I worked on this issue, and I think one of the most shocking things I have witnessed and documented was child laborers being verbally abused and hit by landowners while working in agricultural fields. On average, children earn $3 per day for 8-10 hours of labor. I also met a young woman who was in college. She had to abandoned her studies; she chose saving her life over her future – and now picks beans to survive."

"It's such a hard thing when you read so much news. People's eyes start glazing over at some point because they just get so immune to all the things that are happening. But I think with pictures of the children I think it really touches people's hearts," says Todras-Whitehill. "I think all of our hopes are that people will feel an attachment to the kids."

"The consequences of what is happening now are going to play out for years to come. We’re talking about a lost generation of children," writes Brooks. 

'The Children of Syria' exhibit is currently on display and will be through Friday morning. The opening reception will be held Thursday, May 22 and will include speeches from Senator John McCain, Executive Director of the Better World Campaign Peter Yeo, Founder and Executive Director of ART WORKS Projects Leslie Thomas, and Samer Attar, MD, with the Syrian American Medical Society.

Get the latest Travel & Culture stories in your inbox.