Today is six years since the start of the war in Syria, a conflict that has now lasted longer than the second world war.
Thousands of Syrian children alive today were born into war – it’s all they’ve known. And the relentless shelling, airstrikes and violence are taking a devastating toll on children’s mental health.
Harrowing stories of war and survival
To illustrate the psychological impact of the war on children, award-winning photographer Nick Ballon and conceptual artist Alma Haser have produced a striking series of 3D photos and animations.
Featuring six child refugees from the Syria–Turkey border, these visualisations reflect the horrors children are facing and their struggles to recover.
Razan* was just a toddler when the war broke out. A year later, her father was killed.
Later, her mother and sister died when a bomb hit the house where they were staying. Razan was pulled alive from the rubble.
She’s been heavily affected by the horrors she’s witnessed. In the daytime she hallucinates, while at night she suffers vivid dreams.
Razan says, “I would love to be alone in a room. To be alone, have everything, and my home is always neat.
“I’d like to be alone, to be able to go out and no one kidnaps me. And for there to be no fighters or anything, and no bombing.”
Adira and Abbas’ story
Abbas* suffers from cerebral atrophy and violent epileptic seizures. He is unable to walk or talk, and needs round-the-clock care.
He and his family were forced to leave their home when ISIS forces took over. They fled to the Jordanian border. But when a suicide bomber targeted the camp, they decided to go.
Abbas’ parents carried him 600km back through Syria to Turkey. His mum, Adira, says: “All I wanted to do was get to Turkey and get treatment for my son.
“I never know what goes on in his head, but I knew he was always afraid when he heard the bombs drop.
“We carried him in turns, me and his father, on our backs or on our shoulders. I was in so much pain myself mentally and physically, but the hope of medical care for my son was all that I wanted.”
Nesreen* and her siblings arrived in Turkey three months ago, escaping bombardment in Idlib.
They had lost cousins and friends, and seen people dying in airstrikes. As they fled to Turkey, Nesreen saw a four-year-old boy die in his father’s arms when he was shot in the head.
She says, “When Syria didn’t have any planes, it was a beautiful place. But as soon as the airplanes came, they destroyed Syria, and turned it into rubble.
“At my aunt’s house, my cousins – they all died. I felt like I was going to die because they died: there was no one left.
“I hope my voice will be heard by everyone when I pray for Syria to return to peace. We don’t want anything else: just help for Syria.”
When Mohammed* was just five years old, his dad was killed by a sniper.
Mohammed and his sister saw their father’s body after he had died. She became hysterical, but he showed no reaction at all.
Later, Mohammed became introverted, developed a stammer and started bedwetting. Since fleeing to Turkey, he has become aggressive too.
Mohammed says, “I am afraid of the war in Syria. It frightens me a lot to think about men surrounding me and pointing their weapons at me.
“They never did, but when we were in Syria they used to do lots of things. Fighters came to our home and shot my father.
“I get upset when I am playing and someone comes and upsets me. They come and ruin everything.
“When I get upset, my heart feels like it is falling down. My head becomes hot and my hands get numb.”
When he was six, fighters stormed Hassan’s* house. They shot his father while Hassan was clinging, terrified, to his leg.
That winter, he saw his mum and sister catch fire while filling a stove with gasoline. Hassan’s sister died, and his mother suffered horrific burns.
Now, Hassan and his family are in Turkey, but he has suffered so many shocks that he struggles to speak to people.
Hassan says, “A car came to us and we were told to go inside. My father stayed outside. ‘Come here, you dog,’ they said. And then they killed him. They shot him with five bullets.
“I am most afraid when I am alone in the dark. I’m afraid of the sound of shooting. When I get afraid my heart starts beating quicker, my breathing becomes fast and my body starts shaking.
“I dream of a big bird, bigger than me: that I can ride it and fly away.”
Nine-year-old Ahmed’s* father was killed during shelling.
When his family tried to escape Syria, Ahmed lost his mother.
He ended up in ISIS-controlled territory, where he saw beheadings, lashings and dead bodies.
By the time Ahmed was reunited with his mum in Turkey, he had developed a severe stammer, had trouble sleeping and would lash out at his family.
Ahmed says, “I don’t like the planes, or the shells, or bombs, or mines. You might be walking along and the mine explodes and then you die.
“Also someone might throw a bomb and it could kill you. Or a missile could make shrapnel which kills half of the people it hits.
“I am afraid of blood, and I am afraid to see a dead body and someone with his head chopped off.”
Providing vital support
With the help of our partners, we’re providing specialist emotional support to help children recover from the trauma of war.
And across Syria and neighbouring countries, we’re delivering food, safe water, medicine, protection, shelter and education.
We’ve reached 2.4 million children across the region since the conflict started. With your help, we can reach many more.
*Names have been changed to protect identities.