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Keeping hope alive in a devastating war

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In the face of destruction, Syrians found moments to assert the power of love and joy. That message came through loud and clear from these newlyweds, who posed for photos among the ruins of Homs on Feb. 5, 2016.

Throughout the year, Syrians fought for survival in their country’s brutal civil war, giving rise to a refugee crisis as millions of people fled their homes. Hope, or something like it, has come in different forms--from crowded refugee camps in Europe to the bomb-shattered remains Syrian towns, small moments of resilience have emerged.

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Shehab, a 23-year-old Syrian, practices the guitar amidst the rubble of buildings in Aleppo.

For Shehab, a freelance videographer in Aleppo, a guitar has provided comfort in wartime. It’s the only instrument he’s been able to find in his besieged city, where the music stores have long since closed. Bit by bit, he’s taught himself to play through online tutorials and videos. Music holds the key to hope, he says, and it remains a precious form of self-expression.

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A young boy gets a makeshift shower from two women at a refugee camp in Idomeni, Greece.

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Mohamed Zayat, a refugee from Syria, plays with his daughter Ranim, who is nearly 3, in the room their family shares at an asylum-seekers' shelter in Vossberg, Germany.

4.8 million number of registered Syrian refugees outside their home country
$4.5 billion UN’s 2016 funding goal for assisting Syrian refugees
1.2 million civilians in Syria reached by UN humanitarian operations in 2016

Five million Syrians have fled in search of safety, but the path to a brighter future has been an arduous one, often entailing lengthy stays in refugee camps. The Zayat family -- Mohamed, Laloosh and their young daughter -- trekked through Turkey, Greece and the Balkans before arriving at an asylum-seeker’s shelter in Vossberg, Germany. In spite of the uncertainty ahead, father and daughter find joy in playing together.

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The first-ever Refugee Olympic Team marches in the Parade of Nations during the opening ceremony of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

In Rio this summer, a small band of United Nations-verified refugees found themselves under bright stadium lights as they competed as the Olympics’ first Refugee Team. Just one year earlier, Yusra Mardini, 18, from Syria, had swum for her life to reach the coast of Lesbos, Greece, after the overcrowded dinghy she was traveling in experienced engine failure. Mardini and three others dove into the ice-cold water and pushed the boat three and a half hours to safety. She didn’t win gold in Rio, but her presence--a testament to her strength and survival--was a victory in itself.

"I remember everything, of course. I never forget. But it’s the thing that’s pushing me actually to do more and more."

- Yusra Mardini

2016 in numbers