Little rest

Refugees fleeing Syria have recently been a dominant subject in photojournalism, but Magnus Wennman found an untold aspect of the story.

Written by      

The European refugee crisis is documented in moments of action: confusion at border checkpoints, people squeezed onto too-small boats, leaping into the windows of crowded trains, running from border guards, or walking the long highways across the Balkans towards Western Europe.

Ten of the 46 World Press Photo prize-winners for 2016, including the Photo of the Year, cover the Syrian conflict and refugee crisis. All capture moments of action—except for Magnus Wenmann’s series, which focuses soley on children sleeping. On assignment for Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet, Stockholm-based Wenmann captured something entirely different from the drama and chaos that his peers depicted: moments of quiet.

Unicef estimates that around 2.4 million Syrian refugees are children, a little more than half of the total number of people who have left the country. Visiting refugee camps and hospitals in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, Wennman couldn’t help but be drawn to the children he saw—he has a five-year-old son of his own—and decided to document their experience.

Narrowing down the complex issue of the refugee crisis to a single point of focus helps to simplify a subject that, for many, is distant and incomprehensible. “But there is nothing hard to understand about how children need a safe place to sleep,” he told CNN. “Nothing is too complicated about that.”

Wennman travelled the route the refugees follow through Greece, Serbia and Hungary, arriving in the latter country a day after it closed its borders. He photographed families at rest, their backs against the four-metre-high border fence. He documented children sleeping on mattresses in fields, on the flagstones of city squares, and on makeshift beds in hospitals.

Each photograph is accompanied by detailed captions. Fatima is from Idlib and often dreams she falls off a boat in the middle of the ocean. Seven-year-old Ralia lives on the street in Beirut. Thirteen-year-old Mohammed wants to be an architect, but he’s seen more houses destroyed than built. Gulistan only pretends to sleep because she’s afraid of nightmares.

“This time, the project was really personal,” says Wennman. “I tried to do this series with a lot of respect, and I hope it shows.”

‘Where the Refugee Children Sleep’ has been widely republished online, Wennman’s work capturing something that other documentation of the refugee crisis has not.

See more at: @magnuswennman