In Australia, Europe and wherever they go in search of safety, refugees face the same question: why don’t you go back home? Here’s why that’s not always possible.

The number of people affected by conflict, disaster and humanitarian crisis has doubled in the past decade and there are now more refugees than at any other time since World War II.

Wherever they go, these refugees are often asked to return.

But when war throws your life into chaos, it’s rarely as simple as just going home. Here are just a few of the worst conflicts children and their families are fleeing from today.


Syria is one of the most dangerous places to be a child

In the five years of the Syrian conflict, children have lost lives and limbs. They have lost classrooms and teachers, brothers and sisters, playgrounds and homes. An estimated 8.4 million children - more than 80 per cent of Syria’s child population – are affected, either inside the country or as refugees in neighbouring countries.

As many as 3.7 million of these children were born since the conflict started five years ago, their lives shaped by violence, fear and displacement.

Those who stay in Syria risk starvation and disease and children as young as seven are being recruited by armed forces and groups. Children have tried to escape from starvation in besieged towns, only to be shot by snipers or killed in minefields. Sexual violence has been used as a weapon of war, and children have been abducted, arrested at their schools, detained in ‘security centres’ and tortured into confessions.

These are not the atrocities of long-past wars, of history books or period films.

These things are happening to children right now, in 2016, and our response will be judged in the history books of the next generation.
Jannat draws in a refugee centre in Berlin. © UNICEF/UN05628/Gilbertson VII Photo

7 year-old Jannat is one of millions of refugees who fled Syria for Europe. Her family left Homs, making the weeks-long journey from Turkey by land and sea to Germany.

“Jannat’s always asking if she will be able to go home, play with her toys again, when she can go back to school,” her mother Amira says. “So, I tell her that everyone from school has travelled away, and we are travelling to find a new school.”

UNICEF has been on the ground in Syria and surrounding countries every day since the conflict began, providing food, water, toilets, medicine and vaccines, safe places, shelter and schooling for millions of children. And every day, we meet children like Jannat who want to go home to their friends, their schools and their lives - but they can’t.


Thousands of children are being recruited, injured and killed in Afghanistan

Some 35 years of conflict and natural disasters have severely affected the survival and livelihood of Afghans, particularly children and women. More than 8 million people are estimated to be affected by conflict, including 4.6 million children.
Ibrahim, 17, is one of many children who arrived in Greece in 2016 alone. He endured a horrific journey from Afghanistan after being abandoned and left to die by the traffickers he had paid to bring him to Europe. He says all he wants is to get the education he never received back home. © UNICEF/UN020574/Georgiev

In 2015, more than 2,800 children were killed or injured in the violence – about a quarter of all civilian casualties. Children are also being recruited, mainly by armed groups but also by the police and the army.

Conflict has also disrupted access to health care programmes, including routine vaccinations for children. Only 30 per cent of children outside of government-controlled areas can get treatment for chronic malnutrition. UNICEF does everything it can to help vulnerable children: in 2015, we reached over 200,000 children with micronutrient supplements and vaccinated over 250,000 children for measles.
Allayah and four other young boys from Afghanistan crammed into the trunk of a smuggler’s car. They are traveling without parents or family members due to the journey’s high cost. © UNICEF/Nybo

13 year-old Allahyar crammed into a car trunk with four other boys to escape the Taliban and ISIS in Afghanistan. Leaving their families behind, the children fled alone in search of safety and education.

“When there is war there is no security,” said Allayah. “In my district of Jagori, the Taliban is cutting the heads off of the people.”

Saying goodbye to his mother was one of the toughest things Allahyar has faced in his 13 years. “I told her I will go and settle somewhere safe, then I will get in contact with you,” he said. “I will study and become someone. Then I will return to Afghanistan.”
A girl sit on a roof overlooking city A girl sit on a roof overlooking city
A girl sit on a roof overlooking city

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A third of Iraq’s population need urgent aid

Years of violence and conflict have left about 10 million Iraqis in need of humanitarian assistance. Over half of them are children.

Nearly 3.2 million people are internally displaced, and many need shelter, food, fuel, medical services and access to safe drinking water and sanitation facilities.

70% of refugee children in Iraq have now missed at least one year of school.

As violence continues to escalate in the country, there have been reports of mass executions, gender-based violence including rape and torture, and use of children as human shields.
“The fear inside me was indescribable. I can’t find the words to describe how I felt then. Everything is beautiful here. Everything … everything is beautiful.” Sajad, 15, who uses a wheelchair, took the arduous journey from Iraq to Vienna. © UNICEF/UN08734/Gilbertson VII Photo



#BringBackOurGirls wasn’t the end of child abduction in Nigeria

In 2014, the abduction of 270 schoolgirls in Nigeria caught the world’s attention. Since then, an estimated 2,000 other children have been abducted across the region.

Some are forcibly recruited by Boko Haram to fight their own families and communities, to work without pay or to become ‘suicide’ bombers. Young girls are exposed to sexual violence and forced to marry Boko Haram fighters.
Fifteen year old Fati at the Minawao refugee camp in Northern Cameroon. © UNICEF/UN015783/Prinsloo

Fati was kidnapped by Boko Haram.

“One day, two men in the village followed my cousin and me all the way to our home. The men came into the house and told my parents that they wanted to marry my cousin and me. These men were Boko Haram. They carried guns.”

“Boko Haram wanted us girls to do suicide attacks, and many girls wanted to,” says Fati.

“Because they wanted to go to the army and have them remove the belts. That way they would escape.”

Fati never volunteered but one day when they were on the run with her captors, Cameroonian soldiers managed to catch them and place Fati in a refugee camp. With UNICEF's support, Fati is finally getting the chance to recover from the profound stress of conflict and rebuild a peaceful life.


Conflict has plagued Somalia for more than two decades

More than two decades of conflict, insecurity and drought have left 4.9 million people – almost half of the population – in need of humanitarian and livelihood assistance. Most are in conflict-ridden central and southern Somalia, where violence impedes humanitarian access. In the north, drought has left communities on the brink.

Military operations launched in 2015 triggered new displacements in parts of central and southern Somalia and the internally displaced are further affected by forced evictions. As many as 5,000 children and youth could currently be with armed groups.

In conflict-ridden Somalia, the impact of UNICEF’s work is profound. In 2015, UNICEF provided almost 9,000 children and women who had survived physical and sexual violence the essential services they needed to cope and recover - including hundreds of former child soldiers. Over 600 children who were torn apart from their families and communities by conflict were identified, traced and reunited.
Ali was recruited by al-Shabaab. © UNICEF/UN020002/Gilbertson VII Photo

Ali was sixteen years old when al-Shabaab, an armed group operating in Somalia asked him to join their ranks.

“In my village, al-Shabaab recruited all the young boys to work with them. They said that if you don’t work with them, you are betraying religion. They would kill people.” Ali’s family decided he should flee for his safety. He travelled to Libya, then by boat to Italy.

“Every day I think of my family. My heart has left me. I think of my father, my little brother and my sister. If they can come here, I will have peace in my heart.”

Be there for children in crisis and beyond

UNICEF is working to reach more children in more places but the global refugee crisis has stretched our teams and resources to the limit. For too many children, time is simply running out. 

Your monthly gift can make an immediate and lasting impact. With regular support, UNICEF can keep teams on the ground to support children in conflict, meeting urgent needs for health care, nutrition and education. Reliable funds help UNICEF give children safe spaces to play, learn and receive psychosocial support, whether they're in war zones, refugee camps or new homes. Ongoing support helps UNICEF plan ahead and be on the ground as soon as emergency strikes.

You can make this possible. By starting a monthly gift, you can join our Global Parents in making a powerful commitment: that wherever a child is born and whatever comes their way, we’ll give them a life, a chance, a choice.