On the move across Europe, it is the hardest for children, many fleeing with very few comforts of home.
Children are forfeiting their right to a childhood as they cross borders. All lose something when they leave home: friends, family and stability. Besides safe spaces, children need to learn and play.
An abandoned toy lies covered in dust on a road used by refugees making their way from Greece near the border town of Gevgelija in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, as one of the comforts of childhood is left behind.
When people are forced to flee their homes, they reach for the things that they need most — clothes, money, and papers. If they are lucky, they can also take the things that are dearest to them. Sozdar, 6, took her favourite toy before she and her family fled their home in the Syrian Arab Republic.
Familiar playthings can help children adapt to their changing circumstances. A girl holds a plush toy as she and her family and other refugees arrive at the Miratovac border crossing in Serbia. She and her family are on their way to a reception centre in Preševo.
Not every fluffy friend makes it through the journey unscathed. Some are left behind, forgotten amid the panic of refugees scrambling to reach the next border. Every lost toy on the dusty roads is a reminder of a childhood lost. A discarded pink bear in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
A girl sits on the ground and plays with her toy bear, as people queue around her at the Vinojug reception centre near the town of Gevgelija, in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Waiting for long hours can be wearying for children without the companionship of their friends.
Jowaher, 8, holds a cherished toy as she waits to enter the Vinojug reception centre in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Toys can make life more bearable, in emergencies and afterwards.
A deserted toy pig lies in a puddle in a field between the Greek border and a reception centre near the town of Gevgelija, in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Children on the move must often choose what to keep with them, and what to leave behind.
Mira, 9, holds a new toy at a UNICEF-supported child-friendly space in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, after losing her teddy bear on the journey to Greece. Although toys cannot replace a child’s normal environment, they can help relieve some of the emotional distress during crises.
In Croatia, near the Serbian border, Mahmood, 7, and his sister Zahra, 5, of the Syrian Arab Republic, receive stuffed animals at a UNICEF-supported recreation centre, as their parents collect food and warm clothing. Small comforts, such as toys, can help children regain a sense of normalcy and delight.
A stuffed toy dangles upside-down from a fence at the Opatovac reception centre in Croatia, left by local residents to welcome arriving refugee children. Amid the uncertainties in children’s lives, toys left behind can provide a sense of hope for those that follow.
Learn more about the refugee and migrant crisis in Europe. #FightUnfair