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16 children – 16 photos: Click the black background and switch on their reality

Click through 16 photographs in which everything other than a child refugee has been removed. This could easily be central Copenhagen or downtown London. But it isn’t. And couldn’t be when you switch on the background to highlight their reality.

2016 was the Year of the Child Refugees.

Bare feet on cold roads. Worn-out boats on the verge of capsizing. Millions dreaming of a better place.

Weakest of them all were of course the children that this story is about.

About the many under-age children who in 2016 – with or without their loved ones – left what they knew as home and fled to Europe. About the lonely moments in the camps, and the endless marches along highways. Fleeing across rivers. In pouring rain under umbrellas. Confronted with painful barbed wire. Confusing police signposts that are not understood.

Here are 16 children. You don’t know them yet – and you see them alone in the world. But as you click on the pictures, and the backdrop appears, you can see what being a refugee child in 2016 really means for them.


Fleeing by land is the primary method of escape. Travelling along highways, and fields that are crossed in the dead of night. Many families with children tried to cross the border between Greece and Macedonia in May, but were found by the authorities and sent back to the refugee camps in Greece. Among others, this disillusioned family returning to the Idomeni camp in Greece.

Foto: AP / Petros Giannakouris

We don’t know if she’s asleep or if she’s aware of escaping across the river. When she’s grown up she may be reminded of the episode – waves  breaking, hands helping. Almost 10,000 refugees were stranded in the camps of northern Greece, with desperation mounting for each day that passed.

As the barbed wire eventually stopped groups from travelling along the main roads, refugees found more daring ways to cross the border into Macedonia. Like here, forging a river to get to the north.

Foto: AP / Vadim Ghirda

A smile with a touch of chocolate and a squeeze of desperation. It’s Friday March 11 in the Idomeni Camp in Greece. After three days of heavy rain the situation is critical for the 14,000 inhabitants. Tents being moved around, but the rain still keeps coming, as does the smile.

Foto: AP / Vadim Ghirda

The Idomeni Camp bears witness. It is not only a pillar of shame for the unsolved wars in Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia and many other places around the world. It also contains the most outstanding examples of human endurance. The children in the Idomeni Camp – which is often flooded – have been on the run for a long time. Most are simply gathering strength before embarking on new, daring travels. The picture of the sole boy in the rain was taken in May 2016.

A month later the Doctors Without Borders organisation withdrew all aid applications. This was in protest against the controversial agreement between the European Union and Turkey which was designed to prevent refugees travelling into European territory.

Foto: AP / Darko Bandic

A girl in front of the wall into Europe. The picture was taken during a demonstration on the border between Greece and Macedonia in March 2016, close to the Idomeni Camp. Here, thousands of refugees and migrants are unable to travel onwards or back after Macedonia has deployed troops to guard the border.

Foto: AP / Darko Vojinovic

On the road. A father and his daughter walk the sad walk with their few possessions. At the end of May 2016, the Greek police broke up large tracts of the Idomeni Camp and moved refugees to camps primarily around Thessaloniki. This was at a time when it was estimated that there were 15,000 people living in the camp.

Foto: AP / Yannis Kolesidis

Barbed wire broadcasting a clear message. Here on the border between Hungary and Serbia near the town of Roszke in August 2015.

Foto: AP / Darko Bandic

A Syrian child refugee stares into the eyes of the photographer in a tent camp outside the Jordanian town of Maftaq on the border with Syria on February 29, 2016.

Foto: AP / Muhammed Muheisen

Two children cycling past the Olympic Air logo in the old international airport in southern Athens. The airport is being used as a refugee camp for more than 2,800 refugees and migrants. On this day – August 14, 2016 - it is estimated that 57,000 people have become trapped in Greece – most of them in mainland camps such as this one.

Foto: AP / Thanassis Stavrakis

Having children with you as you flee is not easy. Ingenuity is obvious here at the Kara Tepe Camp on Lesbos where a mother has built a cradle of a couple of pieces of string, bits of wood and blankets. It’s October 6, 2016 and it is estimated that more than a million refugees and migrants have passed through Greece to other EU countries since the New Year. More than 60,000, however, are still here after the EU-Turkey agreement came into force and the Balkan route has been hermetically closed.

Foto: AP / Petros Giannakouris

Most of the refugees from the conflicts in the Middle East end up in camps in the adjacent areas. It’s expensive to move on to Europe, so life in the big refugee camps, as here at the Islahiye Camp in the southeastern Turkish province of Gaziantep, ends up becoming everyday life, particularly for the children. March 2016.

Foto: AP / Lefteris Pitarakis

It’s January 2016 and Syrian children are playing soccer in front of their family tent in the Saadnayel Camp in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon. This is one of the other adjacent areas where thousands of refugees have created a semblance of daily living.

Foto: AP / Bilal Hussein

Afghan children cool each other off in the Athenian summer heat in June 2016 in Piraeus Harbour. Hundreds of refugees and migrants have been housed here.

Foto: AP / Petros Giannakouris

The Ritsona Camp north of Athens where this little girl with somewhat oversized Crocs lives. This is October 2016 and some 600 people live in the camp – primarily families with children. The Greek authorities have promised that the families will be moved out of the tents and into proper shelter.

Foto: AP / Petros Giannakouris

You play with whatever you can find. Here, climbing up a UNHCR banner at the Ritsona Camp north of Athens in September 2016.

Foto: AP / Petros Giannakouris

Winter has arrived. It’s January 2017 and nothing has changed in the Ritsona Camp. The children are still there – like this Syrian girl walking barefoot in the snow. And they are still living in tents, even though the EU has stressed that tent camps in the winter are unacceptable.

Foto: AP / Muhammed Muheisen