In this month’s edition of our new Mapping for Good series, we’ll take a look at a project that aims to demonstrate just how extensive the world’s refugee crisis is by visualizing historic UN refugee data. The Refugee Project was created as a collaboration between designer Ekene Ijeoma and design agency Hyperakt, both based in New York City.
Origins of The Refugee Project
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees works with 35 million displaced people in 126 countries. With a staff of over 8,000 people spread across the globe, the UNHCR records data on where refugees are both coming from and going to, with the end goal of making such information public. While the UNHCR has had tremendous success in collecting these patterns and making the numbers available for all those to see, it has, until now, struggled with the problem of how best to communicate their significance.
Realizing that it needed a better approach to bring meaning and context to its data, the UNHCR asked design agency Hyperakt to visit its headquarters in Geneva to present workshops and host discussions on data visualization. After meeting, Hyperakt, along with seasoned technologist Ekene Ijeoma, agreed to take on challenge of explaining the vast archive of refugee data in visual form.
Navigating the Refugee Project Site
When visiting the Refugee Project website, users are brought directly to the map. By default, the map is zoomed out to the full extent of the world; from there visitors can hover over various red rings placed over coordinates throughout the world. The diameter of each ring represents the number of refugees that have left that given country or region, with bigger rings symbolizing higher numbers of people who’ve left.
Upon hovering over a given ring, data regarding that given instance of displacement pops up on the left side of the screen, displaying information such as the top countries to which those refugees fled, the total population of the country from which they left, and more. Additionally, hyperlinked headlines appear that can take users to articles about the particular refugee crisis in question. Lastly, and perhaps most impressive, is the interactive timeline at the bottom of the screen. Using the timeline, any visitor to the site can go back in time to a given year and view the crises that were taking place. This allows users to paint an even clearer picture as to the history and ongoing moment of displaced peoples across the world.
While the Refugee Project may initially come across as a flashy tool, its true value is much more impactful. It may be one thing to hear the constant barrage of “bad news” from overseas. Until now, however, few have tried to centralize all of these headlines and assign them relational significance. With the Refugee Map, people can see that these aren’t just statistics being thrown out in the media from time to time. These numbers represent real people, moving across real space and time, in an effort to find a safer and better life. By placing all of this previously daunting and dense data in one easy-to-use online application, the process of better understanding the full extent of the world’s refugee crisis is made that much easier.