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Essential Lens: Analyzing Photographs Across the Curriculum

Forced Displacement: Human Rights and the Struggle for Social Justice

Introduction

  • The Causes and Evolution of Global Human Displacement
  • International Response to Global Human Displacement
  • The Risks and Challenges of the Displaced
  • Repercussions of the Loss of Coherent Community and Culture

As of this writing, more than 65 million people around the world have been displaced, representing the highest number since the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), also known as the UN Refugee Agency, began its reporting more than fifty years ago. This number includes 21.3 million refugees, 40.8 million internally displaced persons, and 3.2 million asylum seekers. To comprehend the scale of this number, it is useful to understand that 1 person in 100 worldwide has been displaced from their home, and if these 65 million people were a nation unto themselves, they would make up the twenty-first largest in the world. Another way to understand the gravity of the current situation is to consider that 34,000 people per day — an average of 24 people every minute — are forcibly displaced as a result of conflict or persecution. Young people are particularly impacted: Some 94,400 unaccompanied or separated children, representing 78 countries, applied for asylum in 2015. Today, more than half (54 percent) of all refugees worldwide come from just three countries: the Syrian Arab Republic, Afghanistan, and Somalia. Worldwide, Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ethiopia, and Jordan host the largest numbers of these refugees.

But what does it mean to be a refugee or displaced person? The term “refugee” was given a precise legal definition in 1951. It was defined by the newly organized (in 1950) United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) as someone who, “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.” This definition has been refined over time. (See Activity 2.) A refugee is not the same as an internally displaced person (IDP). Refugees cross an international border; IDPs have been forced to leave their home, but have not crossed a border and, therefore, remain in their own country.

The increasing numbers of refugees are the focus of intense political rhetoric and media attention. Their plight has renewed discussions about the following issues:

  • the meaning of nationhood, culture, and citizenship;
  • the definition of human rights;
  • the legal and fiscal responsibilities of nation-states; and,
  • the ethics of national and regional efforts at the control of refugees.

Meanwhile, internally displaced persons (IDPs), who do not fit the legal definition of refugee because they have not left their homeland, pose another set of challenges to international law and to the mandates of humanitarian organizations.

The scale and complexity of the contemporary refugee crisis has also raised new ethical and human rights questions such as: What are the rights of the deceased? Thousands perish on their journey for safe refuge, and their relatives and friends, as well as the international community, call for the need for a registry of the dead, and the care and rights of those orphaned by these tragedies.

The Causes and Evolution of Global Human Displacement

In the pre-World War II era, a number of factors created refugees. In the seventeen century, Huguenots left France because religious beliefs led to persecution. Colonialism and wars in the late nineteenth century displaced large numbers of citizens. A number of events and social phenomena shifted the perception of displaced peoples in the early twentieth century, which marked the emergence of the global modern refugee. Between 1914 and 1922, World War I, the Russian Revolution, and the ethno-religious “unmixing” of Greece and Turkey displaced millions of people. In 1919, the Turkish government massacred one million Armenians, and the threat of death forced hundreds of thousands of surviving Armenians out of the country. In this pre-World War II era, different countries appealed to refugees, and some countries encouraged refugee resettlement. Jews who were seeking refuge from religious persecution went to South America and the United States.

While the World War I era conflicts uprooted some seven million people, it was the aftermath of World War II and the beginning of the Cold War that pushed 40 million people into statelessness. Europe became the focus of refugee history because inward-looking nations such as the United States made it more difficult for refugees and migrants to enter the country. World War II marked a turning point in the movement of peoples. On the one hand, the number of refugees increased. Wars and conflicts, failing governments, uprisings, and disasters forced millions of people around the globe to leave their homelands in levels that challenged host governments and humanitarian organizations, and fundamentally altered nation states. At the same time, their movement became more difficult as nations introduced more border control and restrictions for entry.

From the 1960s on, African countries dealt with the fallout of decolonization, genocide, and famine. The 1990s saw the end of the Soviet-Bloc-affected wars in the former Yugoslavia, Iraq, and Afghanistan, which led to another large wave of displacement. These events prompted some receiving countries to change their refugee policies. In the 1970s and 1980s, refugees from Vietnam and Kampuchea (Cambodia) went to Australia, a country that had not previously encouraged refugees. The arrival of Vietnamese refugees marked the end of the infamous White Australia Policy, or the Immigration Restriction Act, which was passed in 1901 and was designed to discourage non-Europeans from coming to the country.

Cold War refugees from Asia also impacted the West. Hundreds of thousands of so-called “boat people” — formerly people from the French colonies of Indochina who did not want to live under repressive Communist rule in the post-Vietnam War era — became a fixture in the national consciousness of the United States during the late 1970s and early 1980s as refugees were resettled there. Cubans also braved storms and the shark-infested waters of the Florida Straits in their efforts to reach the United States during the 1980s, as did Haitians in the 1990s. Thus, the present-day situation in the Mediterranean is not the first instance of widespread attention to refugees fleeing by boat.

IDPs faced similar challenges. In Colombia, for example, a 50-year civil war has produced more than five million IDPs. The government security forces and paramilitary units have been combating the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (or FARC, Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia) and the National Liberation Army (or ELN, Ejército de Liberación Nacional). The illegal drug trade has exacerbated the numbers of IDPs as people have left their homes because of the added threat of drug-related violence.

In 2016, negotiations began in Myanmar to end the long civil war, which started in 1948. Decades of fighting between ethnic minority groups and the government have resulted in large numbers of IDPs and mass human rights abuses. The Rohingya population (who are Muslims) continue to suffer disproportionately. People from Myanmar form the largest refugee population in the United States as of 2015.

As with World War II, 2015 was arguably a turning point in modern refugee history. Beginning around 2011, the world began to see unprecedented numbers of conflict-driven displacement. Conflicts and failed states in Africa and the Middle East led people to flee Libya, Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. It has become increasingly difficult to settle in neighboring countries, so most look to Europe as the only other possible destination. Passing through the Mediterranean, the Balkans, and other countries in Eastern Europe because these countries offer little in terms of economic stability, millions of people have embarked on perilous journeys to seek new lives in countries such as Germany, Sweden, Denmark, and the UK. Because of the substantial numbers they have accepted into the country, Germany has played a central role: In 2015 alone, 1.1 million refugees crossed the German border. Berlin received nearly 10,000 refugees in November 2015.

Throughout 2015, the world was riveted by the images of ill-equipped and overcrowded boatloads of Syrian families and individuals struggling to survive a perilous passage through the Aegean Sea. Dogan News Agency’s Nilufer Demir’s photograph of the body of a three-year-old Syrian boy named Aylan Kurdi shocked the world. Kurdi drowned after the overcrowded boat carrying him and his family across the Mediterranean was overcome by waves, and his body was found washed up near the Turkish town of Bodrum. Yet Kurdi represents just one life out of millions impacted by what many observers now recognize as the greatest humanitarian crisis the world has ever known.

Meanwhile, changing climate conditions and environmental factors are creating new kinds of displacement that do not fit neatly into definitions of persecution, because there is no legal definition of a “climate refugee” or an “environmental refugee.” Floods and storm events are the overwhelming cause of internal displacement. In Myanmar, nearly half a million people have had to flee their homes because of monsoon flooding. Other events, such as the earthquake in Nepal, have also caused displacement.

In Oman and Mongolia, climate change is impacting pasture quality and water resources and disrupting the rural landscape. Therefore, those who are economically dependent on the land see rural poverty and out-migration. These “environmental migrants” are often forced to leave pastoralism all together because fencing, policies, and fixed borders restrict their capacity to move and continue their work in either their home country or a neighboring nation state. The government often reinforces these pressures with policies of forced settlement, thus cutting them off from their livelihoods. The issue is further compounded by large-scale mining and oil extraction in these regions, which further degrades the local ecosystem.

Unlike refugees of the past, refugees today use smartphone apps such as WhatsApp, Viber, Messenger, and Google Maps to help them navigate sea crossings and hostile borders and to maintain contact with loved ones. This also helps them keep their family and friends informed of their whereabouts. Before arriving at a destination, through texting and messaging, refugees can determine their next steps. A number of refugees have used their experience and skills to create their own social media tools to help others. A Syrian refugee living in Turkey created an app called Gherbetna (which translates to “loneliness, otherness, or exile” in Arabic) that aids users by answering questions and offering advice, such as how to apply for a work permit in Turkey. Another online network helps Syrian refugees find job opportunities in the country in which they have relocated.

International Response to Global Human Displacement

The displacement and movement of people in the first half of the twentieth century led to the creation of the world’s first legal and institutional framework designed to manage stateless migrants. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees were both created in 1951. Charged with the responsibility of providing international protection for refugees, the core principle of the work of the UNHCR is non-refoulement, or the belief that a refugee cannot be returned to a country where they face serious threats to their life or freedom. The UNHCR, also known as the UN Refugee Agency, is a United Nations organization that is mandated to protect and support refugees at the request of a government or the UN itself. It assists in their voluntary repatriation, local integration, or resettlement into another country.

The United States has its own international advocacy and domestic refugee resettlement organization, called the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants. According to the organization’s mission statement, USCRI was established “To protect the rights and address the needs of persons in forced or voluntary migration worldwide and support their transition to a dignified life.”

Humanitarian organizations such as Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) complement the work of the UNHCR. MSF works around the world to provide refugees and IDPs with medical care and access to safe drinking water, psychological care, vaccinations, and life-saving nutrition.

Individuals also make vital contributions. Private citizens have used their own boats to rescue refugees traveling by water. Along the major refugee traveling routes through Europe to Germany, many citizens have distributed food and water. Independent volunteers raise their own funds to go and work in refugee camps. Business leaders such as Hamdi Ulukaya, the CEO of the U.S.-based Chobani, the world’s largest yogurt factory, employ large numbers of refugees. Other businesses offer internships, scholarships, and training courses. With the UNHCR, the Vodafone Foundation developed a digital “school in a box” to bring tablet-based teaching to young refugees living in camps.

On the national and local level, refugees and IDPs pose specific challenges for politicians and civic leaders around policy and resources. The movement of IDPs can be spontaneous depending on unforeseen outbreaks of violence or disasters, and governments can be unprepared to deal with an influx of residents. This was seen during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The financial burden of addressing the needs of refugees can be felt disproportionately in specific urban areas. For this reason, some officials (often responding to the attitudes of their constituents) withhold whatever resources they may have because they seek to discourage further influxes.

Refugees need to be housed, trained, and educated. They may require intensive medical and psychiatric care. These are examples of practical, day-to-day needs, but there are complex social and cultural needs as well. Because refugee populations tend to be poor and face language barriers in their new setting, the design and implementation of programs is paramount. Ineffective programming and poor decisions can exacerbate problems for vulnerable communities and may have lasting impacts.

Each country has its own system, but in the United States, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE), along with other intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations, work on asylum claims. Agencies known as resettlement support centers interview applicants, help prepare paperwork, and arrange medical examinations and background security checks. The U.S. president determines the number of refugees accepted each year in consultation with Congress. Congress then appropriates funds and contracts with nine agencies to help resettle them. Refugees are given federal money to learn English and pay for their living costs for a short time. Within a couple of months, they are expected to be self-supporting.

In the United States, a nationwide network of cities participate in programming specifically designed to welcome and aid refugees. The United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants supports the resettlement, and is often called a sponsor. This agency coordinates services for the uprooted — helping them with practical services, establishing community connections, and rebuilding their new lives. In the United States, individuals cannot act as sponsors, but Canada has had a longstanding policy of letting individuals sponsor refugees without any family connection. Other countries, including New Zealand, Argentina, and Switzerland, are working to institute similar programs that allow individuals to sponsor refugees, in part because of the large demand.

According to the UN and various other regional protocols, displaced people have rights. The 1951 Convention established the basic rights of refugees, which are:

  • Non-refoulement.
  • Freedom of movement, which means that refugees have the right to choose their place of residence within the territory and to move freely within that area.
  • Liberty and security of the person, which means they should not be forcefully detained.
  • Family life, which recognizes the family as the fundamental group unit of society that is entitled to protection. For example, if an individual is granted asylum, dependent relatives are granted the same.
  • Education, employment, and access to justice.

Despite these rights being protected under the 1951 Convention and other human rights treaties, refugees in various countries do not enjoy the full or equal legal protection of fundamental privileges. Many countries detain refugees in detention centers.

Created in 2004, the UN’s Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement state that IDPs retain the economic, social, cultural, civil, and political rights as all people in their own country of citizenship or residence. They have the rights to basic humanitarian assistance (food, medicine, and shelter), to be protected from physical violence, to education, to freedom of movement and residence, to participate in political affairs, and to participate in economic activities. Further, they have the right to assistance from competent authorities in voluntary, dignified and safe return, and resettlement and local integration (including help in recovering lost property and possessions). It is the primary duty and responsibility of national authorities to provide protection and humanitarian assistance to IDPs within their jurisdiction. International humanitarian aid organizations play a significant role in assisting IDPs as well.

The Risks and Challenges of the Displaced

Individuals and families face a multitude of challenges when seeking a better life: changing weather conditions as many travel hastily by foot or by boat, or limited time or access to necessities like shelter, food, or water. In countries such as Croatia, they risk encountering undetonated mines leftover from the decades of war in that region. If travel is by water, it typically takes place in overcrowded and ill-equipped or unseaworthy vessels. On their search for transportation or goods, they must negotiate with state and regional officials, immigration and border control, representatives of international and humanitarian organizations, and private sector individuals. They may also encounter criminal networks. Their journey can be interrupted, redirected, or thwarted at any moment. For instance, in Bulgaria, the government quickly erected a fence along their border with the goal of stopping people arriving through Turkey.

As displaced people, refugees and IDPs must decide whether they will or can return to their homelands, whether to remain in their own country, or how to resettle in a new country. By returning, they risk the possibility of going through all of the risks and challenges again. Living in a foreign city with little services or education contributes toward a life of poverty. Meanwhile, few can survive the bureaucratic process that would allow them to become citizens of a foreign country.

With these factors in mind, in various locations and living conditions around the world, refugees and IDPs work to survive. They do so while negotiating their place of permanent residence with their host government and with the constant worry about family and relatives who were not able to come with them. Depending on one’s gender, sexual orientation, or age, there are additional hurdles and risks. Women and children are vulnerable to violence and human trafficking. Young children traveling alone face legal uncertainty if caught by authorities who may not know how to, or are unequipped to, respond appropriately. Children must cope with various traumas. A recent study by a Turkish university found that three out of four Syrian youngsters had lost a loved one in the fighting. [1]

The UNHCR reports that LGBTI refugees face a particularly heightened risk of arrest, harassment, and violent abuse — including murder. Some non-governmental organizations such as the ABAAD-Resource Centre for Gender Equality in Lebanon have begun to provide individual and group support to LGBTI refugees.

Dadaab, Al Zaatari, Dollo Ado, Mbera, Nakivale, Bokolmanyo. Few would recognize these names, but these are the names of refugee camps that house tens to hundreds of thousands of people. These camps are essentially small cities with their own streets, markets, schools, and hospitals. With a little more than 40,000 inhabitants, the population of Bokolmanyo in Ethiopia is the size of Burlington, Vermont. Dadaab, in Kenya, is the largest refugee camp in the world. Created in 1992, it today has more than 320,000 residents. It is so large that it essentially functions and resembles a city of tents, with markets, religious spaces, a disability center, police stations, graveyards, and a bus station.

While refugees seek asylum and settlement in a new country because they cannot return home, IDPs may eventually return. Land and property are incentives for IDPs to return home. This is rare, however: The UNHCR estimates that only 3.2 percent of all IDPs return home. When displaced people return to their homeland, there are many issues that need to be considered. The first is safety. Armed groups that could prevent or deter displaced people from returning must be disarmed and demobilized. Unexploded landmines and other explosives on the landscape also pose a threat. Myanmar, for example, is one of the most landmine-infested countries in the world.

Repercussions of the Loss of Coherent Community and Culture

Resettled refugees must remake their lives in new settings far different from their homelands. Refugees face the trauma of forced separation from family, friends, and homeland; difficulty covering basic needs; anxiety about their lack of control over their future; financial uncertainty; social marginalization; feelings of loss of dignity due to dependence on welfare and social agencies; and the stigma and negative perceptions of refugees in host countries, among other issues. Refugees’ inability to find employment, compounded by language barriers, can often lead to depression. This is especially the case for male refugees coming from patriarchal societies where familial expectations fall heavily upon them.

According to the Cultural Orientation Resource Center, in general terms, the Syrian society is patriarchal, and everyone is under the protection and authority of the oldest man. Women are believed to be in need of protection, particularly from the attention of unrelated men. The fear of sexual violence from other refugees or host country nationals may cause refugee women and girls to stay home, only venturing outside — such as to go to classes or other appointments — when accompanied by other family members.

Violence is a major and real problem for female refugees. Refugee women are extremely vulnerable to sexual assault and exploitation, including rape. Displaced women may also be coming from countries where they had little or no access to education or job training, and they will require special programming to help them overcome these barriers. Refugee youth may lack stable housing, or face cultural, linguistic, and educational barriers, which means they are often not in school or employed.

Religious services have been shown to help refugees cope and provide a sense of community. According to the UNHCR, “Praying was the first resource to deal with emotional distress by providing them with peace. Religious practices and structures helped to reconstruct a social network by meeting others and providing participants with information to access work or to obtain practical support.”

Non-profits such as Refugee Transitions develop programs to help refugees in their new countries. For instance, refugees created a narrative cookbook through which they told their stories.

In addition to faith-based organizations and resettlement programs, the Internet can also play a vital role in helping refugees to maintain a sense of community connection. Being able to check the news from home and communicate with other refugees can have a tremendous impact on well-being. In recent years, aid organizations have recognized the contribution online communities can have. For example, REFUNITE offers online profiles similar to Facebook, where refugees can search for lost family members.

In helping adults to become comfortable in the new culture, young people make a real contribution. Children are immediately immersed in the new culture through the school system and can help older family members navigate in the new setting. They work as “interpreters” of the cultural habits and norms in the new country. They often are the ones to introduce other family members to the Internet and social networks.

Footnote
[1] www.fhi.no/globalassets/migrering/dokumenter/pdf/bahcesehir-study-report3.pdf

Standards

Standards

National History Standards (NCHS)
World History Era 6
The Emergence of the First Global Age, 1450–1770

  • Standard 5: Transformations in Asian societies in the era of European expansion

World History Era 7
An Age of Revolutions, 1750–1914

  • Standard 1: The causes and consequences of political revolutions in the late 18th and early 19th centuries
  • Standard 3: The transformation of Eurasian societies in an era of global trade and rising European power, 1750–1870
  • Standard 4: Patterns of nationalism, state-building, and social reform in Europe and the Americas, 1830–1914

World History Era 8
A Half-Century of Crisis and Achievement, 1900–1945

  • Standard 2: The causes and global consequences of World War I
  • Standard 4: The causes and global consequences of World War II

World History Era 9
The 20th Century Since 1945: Promises and Paradoxes

  • Standard 2: The search for community, stability, and peace in an interdependent world
  • Standard 3: Major global trends since World War II

Historical Thinking Standard 2: Historical Comprehension

Historical Thinking Standard 3: Historical Analysis and Interpretation

Historical Thinking Standard 5: Historical Issues

Common Core

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.2 and RH.11-12.2: Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of the source distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.7: Integrate quantitative or technical analysis (e.g., charts, research data) with qualitative analysis in print or digital text.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.5: Analyze in detail how a complex primary source is structured, including how key sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text contribute to the whole.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.7: Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem.

CCSS RL.9-10.7: Analyze the representation of a subject or a key scene in two different mediums, including what is emphasized or absent in each treatment.

CCSS W.9-10.1: Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

Curriculum Snapshot

  • Forced displacement and refugees
  • Social justice and the rights and needs of refugees
  • The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

References and Further Readings

Liz Alderman, “Aid and Attention Dwindling, Migrant Crisis Intensifies in Greece,” The New York Times, August 13, 2016.

Eleanor Alpert, “The Rohingya Migrant Crisis,” Council on Foreign Relations Backgrounders, December 9, 2016.

Colin Bundy, “Migrants, refugees, history and precedents,” Forced Migration Review 51, January 2016.

Dawn Chatty and Troy Sternberg, “Climate effects on nomadic pastoralist societies,” Forced Migration Review 49, May 2015.

John H. Cushman, Jr. “Haitians Face Perils of Sea To Reach U.S.,” The New York Times, February 11, 1992.

Theodora Dragostinova, “Refugees or Immigrants? The Migration Crisis in Europe in Historical Perspective,” Origins: Current Events in Historical Perspective, 9 no. 4, January 2016.

Steve Erklander, “Aid Groups Seek Ways to Handle Tide of Refugees From Indochina,” The New York Times, June 11, 1989.

Marina Koren Esri, “Where Are the 50 Most Populous Refugee Camps?,” Smithsonian Magazine, June 19, 2013, www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/where-are-50-most-populous-refugee-camps-180947916/?no-ist (accessed November 4, 2016).

María José Fernández, “Refugees, climate change and international law,” Forced Migration Review 49, May 2015.

Greg Grandin, “Ending Colombia’s 100-Year War,” The Nation, October 27, 2015.

Louise Højen, “Colombia’s ‘Invisible Crisis’: Internally Displaced Persons,” Council on Hemispheric Affairs, February 2, 2015, www.coha.org/colombias-invisible-crisis-internally-displaced-persons (accessed October 28, 2016).

Ben Hubbard, “Lesbos Turns From Vacation Island to ‘Main Point of Entry’ for Migrants,” The New York Times, September 16, 2015.

Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, GRID 2016: Global Report on Internal Displacement.

John Kifner, “Armenian Genocide of 1915: An Overview,” The New York Times: Times Topics www.nytimes.com/ref/timestopics/topics_armeniangenocide.html (accessed November 8, 2016).

Jenny Kitzinger, Edited by Eoin Devereux. “Framing and Frame Analysis,” Media Studies: Key Issues and Debates (London; Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 2007).

Elaine Lynn-Ee Ho, Laura Madokoro, and Glen Peterson, “Refugees, Displacement and Forced Migration in Asia: Charting an Inclusive Research Agenda,” Asia Research Institute Working Paper Series, no. 236, April 2015.

Danielle Robinson, “Engaging with innovation among refugees and IDPs,” Forced Migration Review 53, October 2016.

Corinne Segal, “Stranded in a refugee camp, this Syrian photographer teaches budding artists,” PBS NewsHour, June 11, 2016 www.pbs.org/newshour/art/zaatari-refugee-camp-syrian-photographer (accessed October 30, 2016).

William Lacy Swing, “The Mediterranean challenge within a world of humanitarian crises,” Forced Migration Review 51, January 2016.

UNCHR, The Global Report 2016

UNCHR, The Global Report 2015

Patrick Witty, “See How Smartphones Have Become a Lifeline for Refugees,” Time, October 8, 2015, www.time.com/4062120/see-how-smartphones-have-become-a-lifeline-for-refugees (accessed October 30, 2016).

Susan Wolfinbarger and Jessica Wyndham, “Remote visual evidence of displacement,” Forced Migration Review 28, October 2011.

Further Reading

Klaus Bade, Migration in European History (Blackwell, 2003).

Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, Gil Loescher, Katy Long, and Nando Sigona, eds. The Oxford Handbook of Refugee and Forced Migration Studies (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014).

Peter Gatrell, The Making of the Modern Refugee (Oxford University Press, New York, 2015).

Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, GRID 2016: Global Report on Internal Displacement.

Michael Marrus, The Unwanted: European Refugees in the Twentieth Century (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985).

Leslie Page Moch, Moving Europeans: Migration in Western Europe since 1650 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2003).

Saskia Sassen, Guests and Aliens (New Press, New York, 2000).

David Weissbrodt, The Human Rights of Non-Citizens (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008).

Web Sources

Annenberg Space for Photography, REFUGEE Exhibit
www.annenbergphotospace.org/exhibits/refugee

UNHCR, The UN Refugee Agency
www.unhcr.org

UNHCR infographic
www.innovation.unhcr.org/10-infographics-that-show-the-insane-scale-of-the-global-displacement-crisis/

UNHCR data at a glance
www.unhcr.org/en-us/figures-at-a-glance.html

U.S. Refugee Screening Process
www.obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/blog/2015/11/20/infographic-screening-process-refugee-entry-united-states

Facts about U.S. Refugee Resettlement
www.migrationpolicy.org/research/ten-facts-about-us-refugee-resettlement?gclid=CMurv-rE_tECFVKVfgodAFQJMA

4 Things to Know About The Vetting Process for Syrian Refugees
www.npr.org/2015/11/17/456395388/paris-attacks-ignite-debate-over-u-s-refugee-policy

History of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
www.unhcr.org/en-us/1951-refugee-convention.html

“A Tour of Five Refugee Camps”
www.thisamericanlife.org/greece

Internal Displacement Monitoring Center
www.internal-displacement.org

The Refugee Project
www.therefugeeproject.org

“Refugees Who Have Made a Difference”
www.unhcr-centraleurope.org/en/about-us/unhcr-people/prominent-refugees.html?start=18

U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
www.refugees.org

Time article: “The Syrians Next Door”
www.time.com/desmoines

Pew Research
www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/10/05/key-facts-about-the-worlds-refugees

Cultural Orientation Resource Center
www.culturalorientation.net

“Return and Resettlement of Refugees and Internally Displaced Populations”
www.usip.org/guiding-principles-stabilization-and-reconstruction-the-web-version/10-social-well-being/return-and-

Key Learning Targets

  • Be able to explain the meaning of displacement, the contributing causes that have historically created displaced people, and the differences between the major categories of displaced people.
  • Be able to provide examples of the different roles individuals, governments, and international entities play in advocating for and securing the rights of displaced persons.
  • Be able to discuss the effects of displacement and the ways in which displaced persons create community in both new regions and temporary settings.
  • Be able to identify, compare, and contrast visual themes and pictorial techniques in photographic media that function to direct or shape interpretation.
  • Be able to explain how displaced people use media and new technology to navigate their ways around international borders.

Essential Questions

  • What does citizenship ensure?
  • Who are “displaced persons”?
  • Why does forced displacement or statelessness occur?
  • What roles do individuals, governments, and international entities have in protecting and securing the rights of displaced persons?
  • What are the repercussions of the loss of coherent community and culture?
  • What are the effects of protracted displacement on women and children?
  • What roles do media and photography play in shaping public perception and opinions?

Prerequisite Knowledge

Before viewing the photos and engaging in the activities, students should:

  • Understand that people have been displaced from their homelands and communities since the beginning of history.
  • Be aware of the basic geography and major wars and conflicts of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
  • Know that wars and conflicts caused borders to change, that geopolitical forces shaped nations, and that people were displaced as a result.

Activity: Activating Students' Prior Knowledge

High School
U.S. History

Background

Note: Sections of this background are taken from the Collection introduction because they support the learning targets of this activity.

LEARNING TARGETS

  • I can differentiate amongst key terms such as refugee, migrant, displaced person, and stateless person.
  • I can reflect on my prior awareness and knowledge about refugees and displaced people.

As of this writing, more than 65 million people around the world have been displaced, representing the highest number since the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), also known as the UN Refugee Agency, began its reporting more than fifty years ago. This number includes 21.3 million refugees, 40.8 million internally displaced persons, and 3.2 million asylum seekers. To comprehend the scale of this number, it is useful to understand that 1 person in 100 worldwide has been displaced from their home, and if these 65 million people were a nation unto themselves, they would make up the twenty-first largest in the world. Another way to understand the gravity of the current situation is to consider that 34,000 people per day — an average of 24 people every minute — are forcibly displaced as a result of conflict or persecution. Young people are particularly impacted: Some 94,400 unaccompanied or separated children, representing 78 countries, applied for asylum in 2015. Today, more than half (54 percent) of all refugees worldwide come from just three countries: the Syrian Arab Republic, Afghanistan, and Somalia. Worldwide, Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ethiopia, and Jordan host the largest numbers of these refugees.

But what does it mean to be a refugee or displaced person? The term “refugee” was given a precise legal definition in 1951. It was defined by the newly organized (in 1950) United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) as someone who, “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.” This definition has been refined over time. (See Activity 2.) A refugee is not the same as an internally displaced person (IDP). Refugees cross an international border; IDPs have been forced to leave their home, but have not crossed a border and, therefore, remain in their own country.

The increasing numbers of refugees are the focus of intense political rhetoric and media attention. Their plight has renewed discussions about the following issues:

  • the meaning of nationhood, culture, and citizenship;
  • the definition of human rights;
  • the legal and fiscal responsibilities of nation states; and,
  • the ethics of national and regional efforts at control of refugees.

Meanwhile, internally displaced persons (IDPs), who do not fit the legal definition of refugee because they have not left their homeland, pose another set of challenges to international law and to the mandates of humanitarian organizations.

The scale and complexity of the contemporary refugee crisis has also raised new ethical and human rights questions such as: What are the rights of the deceased? Thousands perish on their journey for safe refuge, and their relatives and friends, as well as the international community, call for the need for a registry of the dead, and the care and rights of those orphaned by these tragedies.

Begin the Activity

In this four-part activity, students move from thinking locally to more broadly about displaced people. The intent is to help students understand that their community likely has members who have been displaced. This will set the stage for the ensuing activities, where more specifics and historical events will be examined.

Part I

In pairs, ask students to define and give examples for the following four terms:

  • Refugee
  • Migrant
  • Internally displaced person
  • Stateless person

Recognize that students may not know these terms, they may confuse them, or they may not have thought much about them. Similarly, some students may themselves be displaced. In this part of the activity, students simply reveal what they know about these terms. Depending on their experiences, this first part may take 5 minutes, or it may last 10 or 15. Have each pair write down a short definition for each term. If they have never heard the term, they should not write a definition.

When they have shared all they know about these terms, project the following definitions overhead for each of the four terms and have the pairs compare them with what they discussed and wrote down.

  • Refugee: a person who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, violence, or natural disasters [1]
  • Internally displaced person: a person who has been forced to leave his or her home or place of habitual residence; typically does not leave the country [2]
  • Migrant: a person who is working/will work for pay in a country of which he or she is not a national [3]
  • Stateless person: a person who is not considered a national by any state under the operation of its law; that is, a person who does not have a nationality of any country [4]

Part II

By combining pairs of students, create groups of four. Ask these groups of students to tell each other what they know about refugees or migrants in their community or region and in the United States. If they are part of a community of refugees or migrants, they can add information about when this group formed and why they are currently living in this location. Others in class can add to this by sharing what they know about refugees and migrants near their homes and across the United States. If time allows, ask the students to share with each other their sources of information about migrants and refugees. Is it from the news? Books? School? Parents? Where?

Part III

In the same groups of four, ask students to discuss the four questions below. As they discuss, have all group members take notes on what they discuss, but have one student be the official note-taker for the group. Tell them they will use these notes when each group shares their answers with the class.

  1. What images come to mind when you hear the terms “refugee,” “migrant,” “internally displaced person,” or “stateless person”?
  2. What time period or era and what countries do you think of in regard to these terms?
  3. What kinds of conditions will displace people from their country or community? What examples can you cite or use to support your answers?
  4. Where have you heard these terms or other terms related to them? Consider music, the Internet, news, school, friends, and so on.

After each group has had a chance to answer these questions, have them share their answers with the entire class.

Part IV

As an exit slip for the day (a piece of paper that they turn in as they leave class), ask students to write two questions they have about this topic. Encourage them to think of different kinds of questions: these could be questions about policy or human rights, about a particular kind of refugee experience, or about historical roots. They should reflect on what they already know, and consider questions that would help expand, correct, or clarify that knowledge. As you collect these questions, you will have a quick assessment of students’ prior knowledge and how much additional detail you will need to provide. These questions can also be used to initiate class discussions.

Footnotes

[1] www.unrefugees.org/what-is-a-refugee

[2] www.unrefugees.org/what-is-a-refugee

[3] www.unesco.org/new/en/social-and-human-sciences/themes/international-migration/glossary/migrant

[4] www.unrefugees.org/what-is-a-refugee

Activity: For What Reasons Are People Displaced?

High School
Geography, Social Studies, U.S. History, World History

Background

Note: Sections of this background are taken from the Collection introduction because they support the learning targets of this activity.

 LEARNING TARGETS

  • I can identify locations around the world from which refugees come.
  • I can think about world events as interrelated.
  • I can explain possible causes and consequences of displacement.
  • I can use photographs and other historical sources to examine the role of different historical agents — from state powers to humanitarian organizations.

In the pre-World War II era, a number of factors created refugees. In the seventeen century, Huguenots left France because religious beliefs led to persecution. Colonialism and wars in the late nineteenth century displaced large numbers of citizens. A number of events and social phenomena shifted the perception of displaced peoples in the early twentieth century, which marked the emergence of the global modern refugee. Between 1914 and 1922, World War I, the Russian Revolution, and the ethno-religious “unmixing” of Greece and Turkey displaced millions of people. In 1919, the Turkish government massacred one million Armenians, and the threat of death forced hundreds of thousands of surviving Armenians out of the country. In this pre-World War II era, different countries appealed to refugees, and some countries encouraged refugee resettlement. Jews seeking refuge from religious persecution went to South America and the United States.

While the World War I era conflicts uprooted some seven million people, it was the aftermath of World War II and the beginning of the Cold War that pushed 40 million people into statelessness. Europe became the focus of refugee history because inward-looking nations such as the United States made it more difficult for refugees and migrants to enter the country. World War II marked a turning point in the movement of peoples. On the one hand, the number of refugees increased. Wars and conflicts, failing governments, uprisings, and disasters forced millions of people around the globe to leave their homelands in levels that challenged host governments and humanitarian organizations, and fundamentally altered nation states. At the same time, their movement became more difficult as nations introduced more border control and restrictions for entry.

From the 1960s on, African countries dealt with the fallout of decolonization, genocide, and famine. The 1990s saw the end of the Soviet-Bloc-affected wars in the former Yugoslavia, Iraq, and Afghanistan, which led to another large wave of displacement. These events prompted some receiving countries to change their refugee policies. In the 1970s and 1980s, refugees from Vietnam and Kampuchea (Cambodia) went to Australia, a country that had not previously encouraged refugees. The arrival of Vietnamese refugees marked the end of the infamous White Australia Policy, or the Immigration Restriction Act, which was passed in 1901 and was designed to discourage non-Europeans from coming to the country.

Cold War refugees from Asia also impacted the West. Hundreds of thousands of so-called “boat people” — formerly people from the French colonies of Indochina who did not want to live under repressive Communist rule in the post-Vietnam War era — became a fixture in the national consciousness of the United States during the late 1970s and early 1980s as refugees were resettled there. Cubans also braved storms and the shark-infested waters of the Florida Straits in their efforts to reach the United States during the 1980s, as did Haitians in the 1990s. Thus, the present-day situation in the Mediterranean is not the first instance of widespread attention to refugees fleeing by boat.

IDPs faced similar challenges. In Colombia, for example, a 50-year civil war has produced more than five million IDPs. The government security forces and paramilitary units have been combating the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (or FARC, Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia) and the National Liberation Army (or ELN, Ejército de Liberación Nacional). The illegal drug trade has exacerbated the numbers of IDPs as people have left their homes because of the added threat of drug-related violence.

In 2016, negotiations began in Myanmar to end the long civil war, which started in 1948. Decades of fighting between ethnic minority groups and the government have resulted in large numbers of IDPs and mass human rights abuses. The Rohingya population (who are Muslims) continue to suffer disproportionately. People from Myanmar form the largest refugee population in the United States as of 2015.

As with World War II, 2015 was arguably a turning point in modern refugee history. Beginning around 2011, the world began to see unprecedented numbers of conflict-driven displacement. Conflicts and failed states in Africa and the Middle East led people to flee Libya, Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. It has become increasingly difficult to settle in neighboring countries, so most look to Europe as the only other possible destination. Passing through the Mediterranean, the Balkans, and other countries in Eastern Europe because these countries offer little in terms of economic stability, millions of people have embarked on perilous journeys to seek new lives in countries such as Germany, Sweden, Denmark, and the UK. Because of the substantial numbers they have accepted into the country, Germany has played a central role: In 2015 alone, 1.1 million refugees crossed the German border. Berlin received nearly 10,000 refugees in November 2015.

Throughout 2015, the world was riveted by the images of ill-equipped and overcrowded boatloads of Syrian families and individuals struggling to survive a perilous passage through the Aegean Sea. Dogan News Agency’s Nilufer Demir’s photograph of the body of a three-year-old Syrian boy named Aylan Kurdi shocked the world. Kurdi drowned after the overcrowded boat carrying him and his family across the Mediterranean was overcome by waves, and his body was found washed up near the Turkish town of Bodrum. Yet Kurdi represents just one life out of millions impacted by what many observers now recognize as the greatest humanitarian crisis the world has ever known.

Meanwhile, changing climate conditions and environmental factors are creating new kinds of displacement that do not fit neatly into definitions of persecution, because there is no legal definition of a “climate refugee” or an “environmental refugee.” Floods and storm events are the overwhelming cause of internal displacement. In Myanmar, nearly half a million people have had to flee their homes because of monsoon flooding. Other events, such as the earthquake in Nepal, have also caused displacement.

In Oman and Mongolia, climate change is impacting pasture quality and water resources and disrupting the rural landscape. Therefore, those who are economically dependent on the land see rural poverty and out-migration. These “environmental migrants” are often forced to leave pastoralism all together because fencing, policies, and fixed borders restrict their capacity to move and continue their work in either their home country or a neighboring nation state. The government often reinforces these pressures with policies of forced settlement, thus cutting them off from their livelihoods. The issue is further compounded by large-scale mining and oil extraction in these regions, which further degrades the local ecosystem.

Unlike refugees of the past, refugees today use smartphone apps such as WhatsApp, Viber, Messenger, and Google Maps to help them navigate sea crossings and hostile borders and to maintain contact with loved ones. This also helps them keep their family and friends informed of their whereabouts. Before arriving at a destination, through texting and messaging, refugees can determine their next steps. A number of refugees have used their experience and skills to create their own social media tools to help others. A Syrian refugee living in Turkey created an app called Gherbetna (which translates to “loneliness, otherness, or exile” in Arabic) that aids users by answering questions and offering advice, such as how to apply for a work permit in Turkey. Another online network helps Syrian refugees find job opportunities in the country in which they have relocated.

Questions to Consider

  • What events or factors lead to people being displaced?
  • What are reasons that someone would be forced out of their home, community, or country?
  • Is displacement more prevalent now than it was 100 years ago?

Begin the Activity

Group students into fours, and then give each group one of the photographs selected for this activity. Have them read the caption and study the photographs for other clues. Have them consider the following questions:

  • Where was this photograph taken?
  • Why is/are the subject(s) in this photograph?
  • When was this photograph created?
  • From where was/were the person(s) displaced?
  • Why did this displacement occur?
  • What do you need in order to understand more about the people in the photograph?

Students will be able to answer some of these questions, but not all. Allow the groups to research online about their photograph so they can answer each question accurately and be able to support their answers.

Mapping and Inferring

Ideally, you can have a world map or globe in the front of the room. (Feel free to display one overhead as well.) Have each group of four show on the map where the people (or person) in the photograph were from originally and where they were when they were photographed. Then have each group tell the class why they were displaced and what happened when they were relocated. Once all of the images are “mapped” and each group has explained their photograph, have the class brainstorm responses to this question: What factors created forced displacement or statelessness?

Look to identify common themes across each image.

The UNHCR and the Foreign Policy Group websites provide resources showing the movement of people across Europe. Human migration is mapped and charted using a variety of displays. http://www.unhcr.org/en-us/figures-at-a-glance.html and http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/09/03/europes-migrant-crisis-by-the-numbers

Extension Activities

  1. Using statistics provided by the UNHCR, have students create a map of the major locations from which people are displaced and where they ended up. To examine specific aspects of this issue, students can use techniques of carto journalism to create alternative maps, through which they can observe the wealth/GDPs of the countries that have taken refugees versus the countries that have not, along with other statistics. Carto journalism combines journalistic research and cartography to create maps based on information or statistics rather than traditional geographic features. The State of the World Atlas (1991) pioneered this technique.
  2. Students can research the displacement of people as a result of specific environmental disasters. These could be isolated incidents — such as hurricanes, earthquakes, or floods — or ongoing environmental changes that have created displacement.

Activity: Examining Common Attitudes and Perceptions of Refugees Through Photographs

High School
Geography, Social Studies, U.S. History, World History

Background

Note: Sections of this background are taken from the Collection introduction because they support the learning targets of this activity.

LEARNING TARGETS

  • I can identify similarities and differences of displaced people and groups across the earth.
  • I can describe the role that community and culture play for all people.
  • I can explain how a sense of community and culture is threatened for displaced persons.

Resettled refugees must remake their lives in new settings far different from their homelands. Refugees face the trauma of forced separation from family, friends, and homeland; difficulty covering basic needs; anxiety about their lack of control over their future; financial uncertainty; social marginalization; feelings of loss of dignity due to dependence on welfare and social agencies; and the stigma and negative perceptions of refugees in host countries, among other issues. Refugees’ inability to find employment, compounded by language barriers, can often lead to depression. This is especially the case for male refugees coming from patriarchal societies where familial expectations fall heavily upon them.

According to the Cultural Orientation Resource Center, in general terms, the Syrian society is patriarchal, and everyone is under the protection and authority of the oldest man. Women are believed to be in need of protection, particularly from the attention of unrelated men. The fear of sexual violence from other refugees or host country nationals may cause refugee women and girls to stay home, only venturing outside — such as to go to classes or other appointments — when accompanied by other family members.

Violence is a major and real problem for female refugees. Refugee women are extremely vulnerable to sexual assault and exploitation, including rape. Displaced women may also be coming from countries where they had little or no access to education or job training, and they will require special programming to help them overcome these barriers. Refugee youth may lack stable housing, or face cultural, linguistic, and educational barriers, which means they are often not in school or employed.

Religious services have been shown to help refugees cope and provide a sense of community. According to the UNHCR, “Praying was the first resource to deal with emotional distress by providing them with peace. Religious practices and structures helped to reconstruct a social network by meeting others and providing participants with information to access work or to obtain practical support.”

Non-profits such as Refugee Transitions develop programs to help refugees in their new countries. For instance, refugees created a narrative cookbook through which they told their stories.

In addition to faith-based organizations and resettlement programs, the Internet can also play a vital role in helping refugees to maintain a sense of community connection. Being able to check the news from home and communicate with other refugees can have a tremendous impact on well-being. In recent years, aid organizations have recognized the contribution online communities can have. For example, REFUNITE offers online profiles similar to Facebook, where refugees can search for lost family members.

In helping adults to become comfortable in the new culture, young people make a real contribution. Children are immediately immersed in the new culture through the school system and can help older family members navigate in the new setting. They work as “interpreters” of the cultural habits and norms in the new country. They often are the ones to introduce other family members to the Internet and social networks.

Questions to Consider

  • How is each situation of displaced people unique?
  • What similarities do all displaced people experience?
  • What role do community and culture play in our daily lives?

Begin the Activity

Place students in groups of three or four, and then hand out a pair of photographs to each group.

Pairs:

  • 10004 and 10027
  • 10022 and 10025
  • 10008 and 10019
  • 10043 and 10024
  • 10021 and 10030
  • 10042 and 10012
  • 10038 and 10018
  • 10031 and 10003
  • 10031 and 10004

Ask students to complete a Venn diagram of the two photographs, where one circle has unique aspects to one photograph, the second circle has unique aspects to the second photograph, and the overlap has where the two photographs are similar. For example, and using general terms, a Venn diagram might look like the following example:

#10045
Source: Oregon Public Broadcasting

Note: When students produce their diagrams, push them to extract specific information from the images. “Location” and “ethnicity” above are too vague; they are used only as a placeholder. Have students find the specific location, ethnicity, etc. They will need some research time to find this level of detail.

After the groups of students have completed their diagrams, have each group partner with another group. (Be sure it is a group that looked at a different pair of photographs.) Have them focus on the similarities (the space where the two circles intersect), and then answer the question: Based on the similarities, what can we infer about displaced persons?

Community and Culture
A displaced person, a stateless person, a refugee, or anyone who has had their home or community changed must find new communities. Talk about the similarity of all displaced people in regard to losing their sense of home or community. Ask students to reflect on the following four-part question:

  1. How would losing your community and your culture impact you?
  2. What have you learned about the repercussions of losing community?
  3. What are some ideas for how displaced people might try to establish (or re-establish) a semblance of community and culture in their new location?
  4. What challenges do you think they will face when trying to re-establish community and culture?

Extension Activity

History suggests that countries and communities will continue to create situations and circumstances that displace people. While we hope to end humans’ actions such as wars, domestic violence, oppression, and displacement, the world will likely have to continue addressing these issues. Working in groups of four, have students draft a five-point “Declaration of the Rights of Displaced People.” To guide their thinking, have them consider these focus questions:

  • What do they think displaced people deserve?
  • What are basic human rights?
  • What rights are important for all displaced people, regardless of their place or situation?

Allow students time to examine their thinking. They may want to visit the United Nations website, which provides a Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to help their thinking. Students should also think about the various photographs they have viewed in this activity. Have groups share their ideas with at least one other group of four to ensure that they are developing five important and relevant points. After each group has checked in with another group, have them write their five points on a sheet of poster paper, and then hang them up around the room.

If time, or if students express interest, conclude their thinking by having them research the mission statements of refugee humanitarian aid organizations and answer the question: How does the work of their chosen organization address the rights outlined in their declaration? For example, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is the world’s largest humanitarian network, and it reaches 150 million people in 190 national societies through the work of more than 17 million volunteers.

Activity: Using Media to Portray the Experiences and Perspectives of Displaced People

High School
Geography, Social Studies, U.S. History, World History

Background

Displaced people are associated with many stereotypes, and these ideas permeate media culture. Photography, associated with evidentiary truth and the direct portrayal of the real world, has a special function in shaping attitudes. Studies have found that stereotypes, hate speech, and political rhetoric often influence journalists, and thus audiences are not provided with the full story or journalists overlook the story altogether.

LEARNING TARGETS

  • I can examine photographs and the descriptions of the images written by the photographer to understand the context of where and when a historical event occurred.
  • I can explain how photographs shape attitudes about events, people, or places.
  • I can determine a public awareness message that will inform about the plight of displaced people and then select an image and text that accurately presents that message.
  • I can formulate questions to deepen my understanding of events and historic phenomena.

In visual media, photographs and captions may function to support these ideas through various tropes and common formal techniques. Instead of a humanitarian situation, or a phenomenon that has broad and complex roots within political, economic, and social histories, the large numbers of poor displaced people are often labeled as a “crisis” and accompanying photographs can suggest an “invasion.” Displaced people are sensationally characterized as “swarms” or “flooding” into Europe and America. Audiences perceive these populations as threats to their economic livelihood and culture. Photographs vividly portray boats filled with people or long lines. Aerial photographs of large groups create the perception of untold numbers. Race is an important factor here: Displaced people are overwhelmingly non-white people. Media outlets may use a single photograph of a crowd to illustrate a news item, without recognizing the myriad life stories contained in that image. In other words, these media features tend to lump all displaced people together.

The subject of refugees is one topic that demonstrates the need for more critical media literacy and media habits. As media consumers access, analyze, evaluate, and create their own media content, they need to be aware of how we consume media, and the underlying stereotypes, biases, and political agendas that influence and shape stories about the refugee issue.

At the same time, visual evidence provided by satellite images made through geovisualization techniques can also be crucial to understanding the scale and impact of conflict and displacement. For example, human rights organizations used evidence from the integrative online site Eyes on Darfur in their advocacy work. Today, smartphones allow refugees to make their own images. Using sites such as Instagram, refugees can document their journeys and tell their stories themselves. In refugee camps, photography is also used as a creative outlet and as a therapeutic tool.

Questions to Consider

  • What is a common challenge that externally displaced people face?
  • What is a common challenge that internally displaced people face?
  • How can images and descriptive captions help others learn about displaced people?
  • What roles can photographs play in informing the public about refugees and displacement?

Begin the Activity

Photographs are often used in awareness campaigns as info-graphics to help the public learn about an important cause or situation. The impact of adding text and signage to a photograph helps project a very specific message. Have students view the photographs and consider how one could be used in an awareness campaign to help send a message about displacement, statelessness, or refugees.

In this activity, students will create posters and present them to classmates with an explanation about an event, and why a particular image and message was a good choice for shaping public opinion. Students may want to research a challenge facing refugees in the community or city where they live, or they could explore a challenge facing displaced persons in another city or community. Working in pairs or on their own, have students follow these five steps:

  1. Research photographs that have been designated for this activity about a modern-day example of displacement. These questions will guide their research:
    1. What modern example of displacement are you selecting?
    2. What are the main causes for this displacement? What populations are impacted?
    3. Where did this happen?
    4. Recall the differences between “deficit thinking” and “strength-based thinking” in Activity 2. What strengths do the people depicted in your example need or already have?
    5. What is the status of these people today? What does the future hold?
    6. What public awareness message do you want to get across to the world about these people? Do you seek to inform or educate? Or do you want your audience to do something specific (write a letter, make a donation, etc.)?

When developing your message, be aware of statistics. These could be used as text for your poster. Similarly, be aware of any quotations that inspire you, because you could add those words directly to your poster.

  1. Have students select the image for their public awareness message. An authentic reason for students to engage in this activity is the annual World Refugee Day, organized by the United Nations. Student posters could be focused on providing information for this day. World Refugee Day is always on June 20th. This also coincides with Africa Refugee Day. The United Nations provides the following description of this important day of awareness: “In a world where violence forces hundreds of families to flee each day, the Refugee Agency believes now is the time to show world leaders that the global public stands with refugees…” Governments will be asked to ensure the following:
  • Every refugee child gets an education.
  • Every refugee family has somewhere safe to live.
  • Every refugee can work or learn new skills to make a positive contribution to their community.

You can find more information about specific events during a particular year at www.un.org/en/events/refugeeday/. Students can also track this by using the hashtag: #WithRefugees

  1. Over the course of its history, the UNHCR has created many image campaigns to raise awareness about the plight of refugees. Have students look at the following examples from the UNHCR campaign “What would you do?”, and then have them consider how to display their message on the image they selected. Consider these examples:

#10046
Source: UNHCR/Ivor Prickett

#10048
Source: UNHCR/Olivier Laban-Mattei

  1. At this point in the activity, allow time for the students to begin designing their public awareness poster and message. As mentioned in Step 2, these can be focused on World Refugee Day. Have students crop their image, insert text, and design a poster that will educate the public about refugees/statelessness/displacement. The poster should be their attempt to show their thinking about the six questions in Step 1 at the start of this activity. Each student (or pair) can present their poster/message to the class, or post the poster in the hallway for others in the school to read. They can be assessed by determining how well they represented the plight of the people in the photograph.
  2. As a culminating activity, engage the students in a classroom conversation on what they learned about images, messages, and the effect of photographs. The following prompts should help initiate this discussion:
    1. How does photography shape our understanding of the struggles facing people around the world?
    2. How does the vantage point of a photograph help to establish a mood or tone?
    3. How does the position of the subjects in the composition influence how we relate to the subject matter?
    4. How does a poster on awareness have more impact than statistics or written descriptions?

Extension Activities

  1. Have students read selections from an online graphic novel titled Meet the SomalisThis novel was produced by the Open Society Initiative. Based on interviews with refugees living in Europe in 2013, Meet the Somalis is a collection of 14 illustrated stories that depict the real-life experiences of Somalis in seven cities in Europe: Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Helsinki, Leicester, London, Malmö, and Oslo. Additional texts include:
    1. Lost Boys of Sudan (2003) by Megan Mylan and Jon Shenk, which is about the lives of two young men who were orphaned boys of the Dinka tribe of Sudan and displaced during the Sudan civil war.
    2. City of Thorns (2016) by Ben Lawrence, a book about life in Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee camp, located in Kenya.

    After reading, students can begin to think about novels, historical fiction, documentaries, and graphic novels as literary genres that can help inform the public about an important issue. Using Meet the Somalis as an example, have students design and write a photo essay about the life of a displaced person. Their imaginary photo essay should include eight images, each with a one or two-sentence caption. Students should first identify a person as the subject for the essay. What age and what gender is this person? Where does this person live? What was their life like before their displacement? What caused their displacement? What was their journey like (if they are not internally displaced)? Do they live with family? What is their status? What are their challenges, worries, and hopes?

  2. Ask students to imagine that they are leaving their home and country in less than seven days. They are not going on vacation or officially moving, but need to quickly pack with very small expectations of returning home. Have them think of five items that they would bring with them; they would have to be able to carry all five things at the same time. Have students share why they would select each item. Ask the entire class to share their items, and try to come to a consensus about how people decided on the items to bring.

Series Directory

Essential Lens: Analyzing Photographs Across the Curriculum

Credits

Produced by Oregon Public Broadcasting. © 2015
  • Closed Captioning
  • ISBN: 1-57680-905-6

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