When making art at school in Arsal, Lebanon, the Syrian children don’t paint pictures of flowers and teddy bears. They are painting some of the last unforgettable images they saw in the hometowns that they were forced to abandon – bodies.
Photographer Åke Ericson visited Syrian refugee camps in Lebanon in September to show how the ongoing civil war is affecting civilians, especially children. Many are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, he said, and you can see the distress in their eyes. “Some are angry, some are stressed, some jumping up and down,” Ericson said. “Sometimes they don’t say anything.” However, he said, children are children and are much more open than adults. “They would like to go back to Syria as soon as possible,” Ericson said. “They have their friends. They dream of going back.”
Supporters of both the current regime and the rebels live together at the camps, Ericson said. They don’t talk about which side they are on, and teachers say only that they hope for peace in the country, not for victory by one side or the other. He recalled a group of children from different villages around Syria riding the bus together and spending all their time together, sharing the terror of war and the ache for home. Like the children’s teachers, Ericson hopes for peace but doesn’t see a solution coming in the near future. He hopes his work will shed light on the civilians who suffer in war. “I would like to give them their voice with my camera,” he said. The United Nations refugee agency says there are almost 350,000 registered Syrian civilians seeking refuge in surrounding countries, including Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan.
Of the registered population, one-fifth are under 18. In Lebanon alone there are close to 90,000 registered Syrian refugees and an estimated 33,000 more who have not been registered. Ericson spent 10 days in Majdal Anjar and Arsal, Lebanon, two villages only a few miles from the Syrian border. Refugees arrive by walking or driving through official border crossings, but they must deal with demands for bribes and targeted shootings on the Syrian side, the UNC refugee agency said. A great concern now is surviving the winter.
Currently 52 refugee families are living in unfinished homes around a newly built mosque in Arsal, and temperatures have already fallen below freezing. Ismail Mosque, which is also housing Syrians, has no heat or hot water. Ericson has never been to Syria or photographed the conflict and isn’t interested in doing so. “Not every time, but sometimes it’s worse for (civilians) than for the soldiers,” he said. “They’re going to remember this all their life.”