Photojournalist Shows Heartbreaking Photos of Marawi Refugee Children
On assignment to cover the events after the siege of Marawi City, I met these children who are now in an evacuation center in Pantar Central Elementary School, in Lanao del Norte.
Thousands of Marawi residents escaped in fear of the ISIS-linked militant groups that attacked the city. Some walked for hours—others, days—often without food and water. In response, President Rodrigo Duterte declared 60 days of martial law in Mindanao a few days after terrorist groups Maute Group and Abu Sayyaf rampaged through the city; in the meantime, thousands of residents continue to flee the crisis in Marawi, which is home to some 200,000 people.
Children in their early years are the most curious creatures: Their hunger for information is at its peak, so it is sad to know that, one morning, instead of waking up to a new day, they see soldiers armed to the teeth invading their neighborhoods, and hear sporadic bursts of gunfire, the sound of whirly warbirds, of tanks rolling, and finally, the loud thuds and thunderous explosions of incoming bombs. They join their families fleeing the city in haste, walking for hours and days in an exodus, looking back to see the houses aflame.
These visions will accompany them for the next days to come. The children settle in to life as refugees in a public school in neighboring Lanao del Norte, uncertain if they can go back to their own schools. With the help of the local government and support of NGOs, they slowly begin to feel at home, reclaiming their childhood. Art therapy is one way of releasing the demons they have seen and to express what they feel and think through sketches, virtual snapshots of their young minds.