Refugee children in Europe dream big in UNHCR project

The Dream Diaries visualizes the stories of children who have fled their homes for a new life in Europe.

Benjamin Heertje, Kris Pouw, Debra Barraud and Annegien Schilling in Berlin for The Dream Diaries project.  © UNHCR/Kris Pouw

GENEVA - Four young online creators have travelled more than 7,000 kilometres across Europe to meet a dozen refugee and asylum-seeking children as part of a new project, in association with UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, that lets the youngsters’ imaginations run free.

In the course of 16 days, Humans of Amsterdam photographer Debra Barraud and her colleague Benjamin Heertje, Dutch graphic designer Annegien Schilling and film-maker Kris Pouw journeyed through five European countries to capture the dreams of children who have fled war and persecution in Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia and beyond. The stories make up the Dream Diaries.

“Through engaging with the many children we met, they shared their dreams with us. Once we had gathered their stories and dreams, we created an image to symbolize their realization” says Debra, whose Humans of Amsterdam photography project has over 400,000 Facebook followers. “Through the project, we saw the strength of these children and how with the right support they can achieve anything.”

“I want to become a superhero so I don’t have to be afraid any more."

The series, which launches over 10 days across Instagram, Facebook and the UNHCR website and social pages, visualizes the dreams of children such as Ayham, 8, who lives with his family in Vienna, Austria, after fleeing Syria in October 2015. A portrait captures him as a superhero, with lightning bolts pulsing from his fingers.

“I want to become a superhero so I don’t have to be afraid any more,” Ayham told the Dream Diaries team. “I would end the fighting in Syria and then I would go back and kiss everything, really everything, also the bananas and the watermelons.”

The Dream Diaries on film (UNHCR/@krispouw/@humansofamsterdam/@fetching_tigerss)

In 2016, more than 50 per cent of refugees were children. Unaccompanied or separated children – mainly from Afghanistan and Syria – made some 75,000 asylum applications in 70 countries during that year. Approximately one-third of people seeking asylum in Germany in 2015 and 2016 were children and young people.

"At a time when we see some people and places closing their hearts and minds to refugees, it’s an inspiration to see four young people embark on this great journey to tell these stories of hope," says Veronique Robert, UNHCR’s deputy regional representative for Western Europe. "The Dream Diaries truly exemplifies how refugees are people just like you and me, with hopes, dreams and desires. The only difference is that they have been forced to flee their homes, loved ones and leave everything behind."

"It was interesting that we created pictures that gave people hope."

The stories of the 12 children featured in UNHCR’s Dream Diaries series are told from cities in Austria, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland, where they have found new homes and a chance to dream again.

“The general tone of pictures of people who are refugees is very sad and hopeless and almost depressing. I thought it was interesting that we created pictures that gave people hope,” says Annegien, who has nearly 1 million followers on her Fetching_Tigerss Instagram account.

Audiences are being encouraged to stand #WithRefugees by signing UNHCR’s global petition, which asks decision makers to grant refugees safety, education and opportunities – turning their dreams into reality. You can follow The Dream Diaries series via Humans of Amsterdam, Fetching_Tigerss and UNHCR social pages.


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