These Interactive Maps Deftly Communicate The Reality Of The Refugee Crisis

This is a great example of using knowledge to spur action.

Using a large amount of U.N. refugee data, The Refugee Project has created a series of interactive maps which chart all refugee migrations around the world over the last half-century. According to a press release, as each different map courses through the years, "it reveals the growing occurrences of crises and their country of origin along with data revealing the scale of each country's exodus." 


Per the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, nearly 66 million people were displaced worldwide in 2016, and that year the number of refugees reached an all-time high of 22 million people. The Refugee Project's maps provide a visualization that pairs history with layers upon layers of data, creating a powerful narrative of refugee migration.

For example, the gif of the world map below shows the impact the 2011 Syrian civil war had on the growing refugee crisis. As you can see, the refugee population from that year was just under 10.5 million of the world's 6.9 billion people. In other words, one out of every 670 people was a refugee. Lastly, hovering over each country allows the viewer to see where local refugees sought asylum in exact figures for any given year.

An even closer look reveals there were just under 20,000 Syrian refugees in 2011, but the comparison tool shows that by 2016 — the year the Syrian city of Aleppo fell to regime forces — that figure had skyrocketed to well over 5.5 million, with one in three people in the world being classified as a Syrian refugee.

The maps were self-produced by Hyperakt — a Brooklyn-based social impact design agency — and designer Ekene Ijeoma after some members of Hyperakt's staff learned a great deal about the UNHCR's work during a conference in Geneva in the winter of 2012. Ijeoma tells A Plus that creating the maps took "a year of long nights and weekends."

"We walked away from it inspired to use their massive publicly available datasets to help tell the broader story of refugee crises over the last half century," Hyperakt Principal and Creative Director, Deroy Peraza, tells A Plus. "This inspired us to take on building this atlas of forced human migration as an independent project." 

The idea is that, in creating these maps, people can better understand the scope of the problem at hand and see how certain world events tend to have an impact worldwide. "The more people have a broad perspective about the historical and geographic trends of these crises, the more people will be inspired to try to work on addressing them," Peraza explains. "It's a classic case of making knowledge accessible in a compelling way to inspire long-term action."

Looking at the below screenshot of Afghanistan in 2001 for example, you can see how the refugee population changed when the U.S. led a NATO invasion of the country and ousted the Taliban shortly after the September 11 attacks. According to the map, there were nearly 4 million Afghan refugees that year, the majority of whom sought asylum in nearby Pakistan and Iran.

If there's one big takeaway from these informative maps, Peraza says it's that the refugee crisis is and has been an ongoing problem that's showing no real signs of improvement. "There might be 22 million refugees now, but the bigger story is that there haven't been less than 10 million refugees in any year over the last 37 years," he explains. 

"Often we pay greater attention to crises that get a lot of media attention — usually those that affect the western world in one way or another — but the reality is every human life has equal value."

Peraza hopes the maps will give people a "curiosity to learn more, to dig deeper, and to understand the complicated geopolitical situations and corruption that lead to the displacement of millions of innocent people every year." 

"The more people care, the more empathy there will be for the victims of these events and the more people will be motivated to try to prevent them from happening," he concludes.

This story has been updated to include a comment from Ijeoma.

Cover image via Shutterstock / Nicolas Economou.


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