Photo Essay

  • Alaa, 12, a Syrian refugee from Idlib, sells roses on the streets of Beirut. He has been living in Lebanon for nearly two years. Alaa attended school when he lived in Syria, but chooses to sell flowers in the streets of Lebanon to earn money to support his mother.
  • Ahmad, 16, and Faisal, 15, hide from police in a apartment building in the Hamra region of Beirut, Lebanon, on March 15, 2014. If they get caught, police confiscates their shoe shining kit, which is worth around 10 USD. Ahmad's parents are both sick, so he has to provide for the family. To be able to work in Hamra, the boys are forced to pay money to a "mobster".
  • Abed, a Syrian refugee, collects metallic pieces from the dumpster in Hamra region of Beirut, Lebanon, on March 13, 2014.
  • Jasem, Syrian refugee from Deir El Zor in Syria, works in a mechanics shop in Beirut, Lebanon, March 22, 2014. Jasem, 12, works from 8am till 6am. He wants to go to school, but does not know how to.
  • A Syrian refugee on his way back to classroom in Shanay, Lebanon, on March 18, 2014. A Syrian refugee who wants to stay anonymous, 14, works in a barber shop and goes to school in the afternoon. He's from Damascus, Syria and has been in Lebanon for one year. He says he has no free time and only plays in school. Children in a Syrian-run school want to stay anonymous, because they would have to serve the army in Syria.
  • Faissal, 15, and Ahmad, 16, Syrian refugees, shine shoes of a customer in Hamra region of Beirut, Lebanon, March 13, 2014. Ahmad's parents are sick, so he has to work to provide for the family.
  • Syrian children in a refugee camp in Dalhamiah, Zahle in Lebanon, on March 20, 2014.
  • Graffiti is seen in a former UNRWA school in Dbayeh, where Syrian refugee children from the nearby camps play, March 22, 2014.
  • A classroom of Syrian refugees, in Mount Lebanon, Lebanon, on March 19, 2014.
  • Mazen plays with a parrot in a mechanic shop in Tabarja, Jounieh in Lebanon on March 22, 2014. Mazen, 14, is a Syrian refugee from Homs. He's been in Lebanon from the beginning of the war. He liked school in Syria, but refuses to go to school in Lebanon, so he decided to work in a mechanics shop. He helps the family with the income.
  • Bilal Ali Shalloum, a Syrian refugee, is seen in a school hall in Broumana, Mount Lebanon region, on March 18.
  • Syrian refugees practice for a performance in a school in Shanay, Lebanon, on March 18, 2014.
  • Syrian children in a refugee camp in Dalhamiah, Zahle in Lebanon, on March 20, 2014.
  • Bilal Ali Shalloum, Syrian refugee, is seen in a school hall in Broumana, Mount Lebanon region, on March 18, 2014. Bilal, 11, is a Syrian refugee from Hama. When he first came to Lebanon, his family had nothing, so he had to work, to help provide for the family. He worked at a restaurant and later on in a supermarket before he started going to school. In the restaurant where he cleaned, his shift sometimes lasted from 9 am till 1 am. He's been in Lebanon for one year.
  • Ahmad and his employer in a fruit and vegetables market in Dbayeh area in Lebanon, on March 22, 2014. Ahmad, 13, is a Syrian refugee from Idlep. He's been in Lebanon for 8 months. He goes to school in the afternoon and works in the morning. Before he came to Lebanon, a school in his area, where refugees lived, was being bombed during the night. He and his friends went to see the school in the morning and helped carrying the bodies from the schools.
  • Syrian refugees in a refugee camp in Dalhamiah, Zahle in Lebanon, on March 20, 2014.
  • A Syrian refugee in a school in Shanay, Lebanon, on March 18, 2014. A Syrian refugee who wants to stay anonymous, 14, works in a barber shop. He's from Daraa, Syria and has been in Lebanon for 15 years.  Children in a Syrian-run school want to stay anonymous, because they would have to serve the army in Syria.
  • Syrian children in a refugee camp in Dalhamiah, Zahle in Lebanon, on March 20, 2014.
  • Amal, a Syrian refugee, sells tissues on the streets of Beirut, Lebanon, on March 13th 2014.
  • Syrian refugees in a refugee camp in Dalhamiah, Zahle in Lebanon, on March 20th 2014.
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Syrian children seek refuge in Lebanon

Updated

No nation has accepted a larger number of refugees during the three-year-old Syrian conflict than neighboring Lebanon, where the influx of one million Syrians – 500,000 of whom are children—has overwhelmed the country’s infrastructure.

Lebanon, now home to the greatest concentration of refugees worldwide, is a tiny Middle Eastern nation of only four and a half million people. Like neighboring Jordan, Turkey, and Iraq, it is straining its resources and public services to support Syrian families, including the country’s “lost generation” of children, only about a third of whom are enrolled in school.

In Lebanon, Syrian children work to support their families by selling knick-knacks and flowers, cleaning shoes, or laboring in factories, fields and shops.

Photographer Jošt Franko captured the image of 13-year-old Ahmad sitting in the store where he works selling fruit when he’s not in school.

“Ahmad smiles when he talks about Syria, because ‘it is the most beautiful country,’ Franko writes. 

“He doesn’t stop smiling, [even] when he talks about [the] heavy bombings in Idlib he witnessed, just this time his eyes are holding up the tears.”

“As adults were picking up bodies, children were helping to pull out the rest of the body parts from the rubble to be buried later, remembers Ahmad. It lasted half an hour. But memory is still alive, just like the war that still did not end: ‘Of course I wanna go back home one day.’”

Born in Slovenia in 1993, Franko documents social issues worldwide.

A third of Syria’s 27 million people have been displaced, and more than 2.5 million have sought refuge beyond the country’s borders. More than 150,000 have been killed since the start of the war in early 2011.  

For more feature photography, go to msnbc.com/photography