Every day, all over the world, ordinary people must flee their homes for fear of death or persecution. Many leave without notice, taking only what they can carry. Many will never return. They cross oceans and minefields, they risk their lives and their futures. When they cross international borders, they are called refugees. As of 2016, over 20 million refugees were registered with the UN all over the globe.

The Refugee Project looks beyond the crises that are currently making headlines and allows viewers to explore all refugee migrations around the world since 1975. As the interactive 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. Hovering over each country reveals where local refugees sought asylum in exact figures for any given year. UN refugee data is complemented by 100 contextual narrative stories detailing the events that triggered the major refugee crises of the last four decades. The result is a visualization that pairs history with layers upon layers of data, creating a powerful narrative of refugee migration.

About the Data

Under international law, the United Nations is responsible for protecting asylum seekers around the world. Through the offices of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and a separate agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), the UN has been tracking displaced people since 1975 as part of its larger task of safeguarding their lives and rights. The UNHCR's mandate is to try to assist all stateless and displaced people, not just "refugees" as defined under international law. The Refugee Project is limited to registered refugees under the protection of the UNHCR. In order to qualify for that protection, an individual must be outside the boundaries of his or her country of nationality, "owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion."

The Refugee Project does not consider the large number of economic migrants and other undocumented populations, nor does it show the millions of internally displaced persons in troubled countries around the world. As a result, it is an image almost exclusively of social and political crises, rather than of natural disasters or economic turmoil (though these factors are often interrelated).


The Refugee Project was selected for MoMA’s Design and Violence exhibition, where it was written about by the UNHCR’s High Comissioner, António Guterres. It was selected for the Design Museum (London) Designs of the Year 2015 Exhibition. The piece was featured in the New Americans exhibition at the Annenberg Photospace in Los Angeles and in an exhibition called Information+ at Concourse Gallery in Vancouver. Stamen Design featured it as part of the Mapmaker Manifesto installation at the 2014 Istanbul Design Biennial. It was published across the globe in Le Monde, El Pais, Corriere della Sera, designboom, Domus and The Atlantic, who called it “an example of how graphic designers are turning their attention to framing data that stimulates action.” The project was awarded a Gold Medal for Interactive at the 2014 Information is Beautiful Awards and a Silver Medal at the prestigious Malofiej 22 Infographic Awards. The Refugee Project has accrued over 5 million page views since launching in January 2014, and has been shared on Twitter to millions of viewers by global humanitarian organizations like UNHCR, Human Rights Watch, Oxfam International, UN Global Pulse and Amnesty International.


Concept, Design & Production:
Hyperakt (Deroy Peraza, Eric Fensterheim, Josh Smith & Ambika Roos) & Ekene Ijeoma
Desktop Development:
Ekene Ijeoma
Mobile Development:
Copywriting and research:
Ted Cava
Copy Editing:
Jenna Shapiro & Ambika Roos
Data Sources:
UNHCR Refugee Data, UN Population Data

How It Works

Compare refugee population visually by country

The size of the circle around each country indicates how many of that country’s citizens are living abroad as refugees.

The circles expand when a country experiences war, turmoil, famine, or repression, and people flee. The circles shrink when the country stabilizes or experiences political change and refugees return home; or, less often, when they are given legal residency in their new homes, or in third countries.

View refugees by volume or by percent of population

The view toggle switch in the sidebar allows you to choose whether you want to visualize the total number of refugees living abroad for a given country in a given year or whether you want to visualize the country’s refugee population as a percentage of the country’s total population for the given year. The percentage view highlights the relative impact of instability on smaller nations.

Explore where each country’s refugees have found asylum

The lines radiating from each refugee-producing country connect it to all the foreign countries where its refugee nationals reside in that year.

Where a refugee seeks asylum is a complex decision, based on geography, the wealth of the individual refugee, political considerations in nearby countries and the policies of the UN.

Analyze when countries had the highest refugee volumes

The red bar along the bottom of the window illustrates a heatmap of refugee volumes over time for the entire world or for individual countries.

This number rises and falls over time in response to global trends and particularly large regional crises.

Read about events that led to refugee crises

The headline stories about many of the most important refugee-producing nations give the context behind each refugee crisis- what people are running from, and why.

Refugees don’t come out of a vacuum. Each wave of asylum seekers reflects a wave of repression, violence or chaos in their home countries.

The years for which there are headlines are turning points in each country's recent history, not necessarily the moments that saw significant numbers of refugees flee that country.

Questions & Comments

The Refugee Project is an experimental learning and exploration tool. We would love to hear questions and comments so we can continue improving it. If you’re interested in publishing a piece about the project or are interested in using the tool in educational contexts, please reach out to: hello at therefugeeproject dot org.

Sources & Notes

Taliban, by Ahmed Rashid, 2000
Angola: terrorist_organization_profile.asp?id=3509
Another Day of Life, by Ryszard Kapuściński, 1976
The Gate, by François Bizot, 2000
Central African Republic:
Democratic Republic of Congo:
King Leopold's Ghost, by Adam Hochschild, 1998 Africa's World War, Gérard Prunier, 2009
El Salvador:
Equatorial Guinea: of-equatorial-guinea/5475/
The Emperor, by Ryszard Kapuściński, 1978
Burmese Days, by George Orwell, 1934
South Africa in Namibia: the Botha Strategy, by Robert Jaster, 1985
Lenin's Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire, by David Remnick, 1993
Sierra Leone:
Sri Lanka:
Timor Leste:
Western Sahara: Western%20Sahara/66_western_sahara___out_of_the_impasse.pdf