The heartbreaking image of the 'lost' boy
Four-year-old Marwan is found crossing a desert alone. But all was not what it seemed.PT0M0S 620 349
It is the picture that tugged at a thousand heart-strings and created a social media storm – the little boy who appeared to have crossed the rugged desert between Syria and Jordan alone, carrying a bag nearly half his size.
Four-year-old Marwan had been “temporarily separated from his family”, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees representative in Jordan stated, and as the vast expanse of yellow desert stretched out behind him, it was impossible not to think of the terrifying journey he must have endured without his family.
But Marwan’s situation was a little different, the UNHCR’s representative Andrew Harper was quick to point out via Twitter as his picture went viral and people, including many in the media, concluded Marwan had crossed the desert alone.
“Marwan's story is that he was temporarily separated from his family in the chaos of the mass refugees’ crossing into Jordan,” Mr Harper tweeted.
He was, Mr Harper said, quickly reunited with his mother after being carried across the border.
“Unfortunately in every mass refugee crossing into Jordan it is the elderly, sick, pregnant and often children that fall behind the main groups.”
Mr Harper, who tweeted the original picture of Marwan, later retweeted another picture showing the little boy at the back of a large group of refugees. “He is separated – he is not alone,” Mr Harper confirmed.
For Karl Schembri, the regional media manager for Save The Children based in Jordan, the issue is not whether Marwan was lost or that his family were only 20 steps away, as some media outlets tweeted.
“Such is our ignorance of what these children go through that the moment poor little Marwan no longer fits our media narrative he becomes just one of thousands again,” Mr Schembri told Fairfax Media.
“Talking to so many of them there is only one thing I'm sure of – that their childhood is lost.”
Marwan was one of the 1000 refugees who escaped the brutal war in Syria for the relative safety of Jordan that day, the UNHCR says, and one of more than one million children to flee the violence.
Many have been forced to cross the borders into neighbouring countries such as Jordan or Lebanon without parents or adult relatives, UNICEF warns.
Here they are vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, UNICEF says, with some used as child labour in farms in Lebanon’s Beka’a Valley, while in the capital Beirut, many can be found selling cigarettes and small packets of tissues by the roadside.
Jordan is home to more than 1100 unaccompanied minors, including some as young as nine-years-old.
As Syria’s war enters its third year, rights groups say more than 2.4 million Syrians have fled, a further three million are either internally displaced or in desperate need of help, and more than 125,000 have died.
There is little doubt Marwan’s journey across the Syrian border into Jordan was prompted by three years of terror and suffering.
If families are not running from the sniper fire, mortar shells or barrel bombs of the Assad regime they are becoming victims of the infighting amongst the increasingly Islamist rebels or slowly starving to death in Syria’s harsh winter.
“One picture that broke my heart,” says Save The Children’s Schembri, “was shown to me by a seven-year-old Palestinian girl in Lebanon who fled from Yarmouk Camp last year.”
It was a photo of her birthday party the previous year and she’s pictured about to blow out the candles on her cake, a brand new BMX in the background.
“She now lives in one cold room with two brothers and her parents,” he says. “Last Ramadan, her dad picked up a teddy bear from a rubbish bin … and washed it thoroughly to give it to his daughter as a gift. And yet she still smiles, and, just like Marwan, walks on carrying her own luggage.”