Look Into the Eyes of Refugee Children
About half of the world's refugees are under 18. Photographer Muhammed Muheisen wants to introduce us to the children who grow up fleeing war.
Zahra is five years old, the same age as the war in Syria. She doesn’t talk much, but when she does, the only things she says are about war, turmoil, upheaval, and whether or not she’ll ever get to return to her home.
She is one of an estimated 2.4 million Syrian refugee children—and one of dozens who has stepped in front of Muhammed Muheisen’s camera. Muheisen, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and Associated Press chief photographer for the Middle East, has been photographing refugees in the Middle East for the past few years, concentrating on the children affected. “I believe they are the real victims of the conflict,” he says. “I like to introduce the public to the names of the people that I photograph because it brings them closer. It's more than just numbers and refugees and Syria and Afghanistan. The people start to be remembered by their names.”
Muheisen used to live in Pakistan, where he regularly photographed Afghan refugees. Last fall, he moved to Amman, Jordan, and he has gotten to know the Syrian children who live in nearby refugee camps.
“They're children in age, but they're not, in a way. They're grown up," Muheisen says. “I looked at a five-year-old girl's face,” he says, “and I touched my face—and my face was softer than hers, for God's sake. So that's why I came close with my camera, to show all these details in their faces.”
During the day, the children’s parents and older siblings work at nearby farms. Sometimes the younger children go along, other times, they fend for themselves. They have no schools, toys, radios, or TVs. But Muheisen says the children are friendly and get along with each other. “I believe that the hard life they have, it makes them closer to each other,” he says.
The following twelve portraits of refugee children were taken in Jordan in mid-March 2016, and in Pakistan in late 2013, early 2014. You will be compelled to make eye contact with them, and it’s hard not to feel unsettled—the intense gazes are so unrelentingly personal. “Each of them has a beauty of their own,” Muheisen says. “The eyes of children are innocent. They can't hide, they can't lie, they can't fake. They just stand in front of the camera like adults, and they look straight into your lens, and if you're lucky enough to have time before they run away, you capture the moment.”