The cruel fate of the youngest refugees

"Utter Despair" [Georgi Licovski/epa]

Children may end up being the hardest hit victims of the refugee crisis. UNICEF’s photo of the year illustrates their plight quite vividly. EURACTIV’s partner Tagesspiegel reports.

Two children surrounded by riot police. Their desperation and fear etched on their faces. Their father tries to keep a hold of his son. The picture, taken on the Greek-Macedonian border has been selected as UNICEF’s photo of the year. The photographer, Georgi Licovski, took the image on 21 August as refugees were detained by border guards. “It throws a magnifying glass on the plight of fleeing children,” said one of UNICEF Germany’s sponsors, Daniela Schadt. She describes the photo as a “snapshot which shows Europe’s dilemma and responsibility in the same frame”.

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It is indeed a cruel situation: children being used to try and soften the hearts of the Macedonian police, by putting them in the front row. Sometimes it is the case that girls and boys are taken by the hand by strangers as they cross the border, their families left behind. The winning photographer still remembers the scene well and the emotions it instilled in his colleagues. “They were so affected by the frightened children, their parents and siblings desperately searching for them,” he added.

Licovski hopes that the image will play a part in changing things so that such scenes do not have to be witnessed again. “No child in the world deserves to have to flee so far from home in order to feel safe,” he said. He also hopes that the photo will convince politicians in the refugees’ countries of origin to solve the problems that have caused so many people to leave their homes.

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The situation is particularly bleak for children, who are not in control of their own fate. UNICEF estimates show that of the 730,000 refugees that used the Balkan route between January and November, 25% were children or adolescents.

The winning photos were chosen by a jury of independent experts. Second prize went to Magnus Wennman of Sweden, whose photograph “Where the children sleep” shows where children spend their nights. The third prize went to US photographer Heidi Levine, who photographed a seriously injured Palestinian father and his son.


The full gallery of winning photographs can be viewed on UNICEF’s website.

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