The Refugee Project (Hyperakt & Ekene Ijeoma)
From the curators: People who flee across international borders seeking asylum (and, thus, refugee status) leave their homes and lives behind. The devastation wrought by such forced migrations due to conflict, famine, persecution, and other life-threatening circumstances has been chronicled historically through oral testimony, journalism, and photographs such as those made by Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange during the Great Depression. More recently, the advent of mass- and social media has fostered a newly global awareness. Refugee crises are witnessed on television, cable, and the Internet, and the world bears witness to the multilayered violence that displaces and uproots people. The Refugee Project synthesizes data gathered by the United Nations to visually narrate the forced migrations of refugees around the world since 1975. Though the United Nations is required under international law to provide protection to those seeking asylum “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion,” many refugees fall outside this categorization and are not represented here. The Refugee Project highlights that UNHCR data used for this project excludes, for example, those who have been internally displaced, become refugees due to natural disaster, or who are economic migrants. In 1975, there were approximately 3.5 million documented refugees worldwide; by late 2013, that number had risen to almost 13 million. In the wake of continuing conflicts in Syria, Gaza, the Ukraine, and beyond, that number continues to grow.
Every three seconds, somewhere on this planet, a person is forced to flee his or her home. They escape war, conflict, violence, persecution, and human rights abuses. Some find a safe place inside their own country, while others need to cross international borders and become refugees. Millions of people are in flight, having left behind their homes, often suddenly, only taking with them what they could carry.
And yet, every time I spend time with refugees, whether in Pakistan, Jordan, Kenya, Iraq, Mauritania, or Ecuador, I am deeply impressed by their resilience. Despite the nightmares of the past and the challenges of living in exile, people find the courage and strength to rebuild their lives. As shown clearly by the graphics of The Refugee Project and contrary to popular belief, most of the world’s refugees flee to neighboring countries and stay in the region. Today, 86 percent of refugees live in the developing world, compared to some 70 percent a decade ago. At the onset of an emergency, refugees initially find safety and help in neighboring communities, who share the little they have with the new arrivals, while national and international aid is being mobilized.
On average, however, a refugee spends more than 17 years in exile before he or she can go back home or find another solution. The long-term presence of large numbers of refugees places an enormous strain on the limited services and resources of local communities. In many countries, refugees are not allowed to work and are confined to camps. A refugee camp is a dire place, where life stands still. UNHCR and partners strive to provide primary education to all refugee children, but the sad reality is that funding is barely enough to cover most basic, life-saving needs. Secondary and tertiary education or skills training to learn a trade remain a distant dream for many refugee children.
In 2013 alone, 2.5 million people became refugees, the highest number in a single year since the Rwandan genocide. During that same year, only 414,000 refugees were able to return home. New conflicts erupt and humanitarian crises multiply, while the existing wars remain unresolved. Peace is dangerously in deficit these days and human suffering is immense. It is crucial for the world to overcome its differences and find political solutions that can prevent and halt conflict. Without this, the human cost of war will continue to grow.