A while back, I came across this interactive data visualization from The Conversation. (Click the image below to launch the interactive.) With the ongoing refugee crisis appearing frequently the news, it certainly seems noteworthy (if rather out of date—the statistics only extend to 2010). In exploring the visualization, it becomes clear that the data is fraught with stories. As an example, select the “refugee population originating from” filter, hover over Iraq, and watch the bubble expand over time, virtually exploding in 2006 and 2007. Then, switch to “refugee population within” and observe how nearby countries like Syria and Jordan see proportionally dramatic increases. In light of more recent events around the world—especially in Syria and other areas of the Middle East—this visualization now seems to beg for an update. 

“Infographic: global refugee populations 1975-2010,” by Steve Melnikoff, University of Melbourne, from The Conversation. Click image above to launch.

Knowing that the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, makes its global refugee data publicly accessible (and even puts out some quality infographics of its own), I wondered who else had used their databases, perhaps more recently, to visualize these important and volatile statistics. One of the most striking examples I found is the animated graphic below, created in 2015 by a Finnish organization called Lucify.




While this visualization limits its scope to Europe, the Middle East, and northern Africa, and only covers 2012-2015, these decisions allow for a remarkable level of granularity in the stories it tells. To leave all filters off and watch the continuous, daily flow of asylum-seekers is mesmeric, if rather overwhelming. But hover over Syria, and the formerly chaotic data becomes powerfully transparent. Moreover, as the slider inches toward September and October of 2015, the dense stream of white pixels becomes not only illuminating, but somehow, oddly moving. 

As the current refugee crisis continues to transform lives and challenges more nations to respond—ideally with compassion—this map is bound to shift in new ways every day. I trust that, at the very least, someone will be there to visualize it.