Interactive map shows the global refugee crisis like you’ve never seen it before
The magnitude of the global refugee crisis can be hard to grasp, especially when numbers and stats can read so stale. But a new map turns data into an engaging, hyper-visual depiction of refugee movement.
The map, created by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University’s Community Robotics, Education, and Technology Empowerment (CREATE) Lab, shows the movement of refugees around the world between 2000 and 2015. The map makes the crisis easier to engage with, putting particular attention on Afghanistan, South Sudan, Somalia, and Syria.
The map was created using specialized technology developed by the CREATE Lab, with data compiled by the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR). The project plays like a video along a 15-year timeline; one yellow dot represents about 17 refugees leaving a country, while one red dot represents about 17 refugees arriving somewhere else.
As each conflict or crisis erupts in a region, a series of yellow dots floods out of the area, eventually changing color to as they “settle” in another country.
Users can zoom in on specific locations to get a more granular look at refugee displacement in those regions. You can also scroll back and forth between years to see the effects of conflict and disaster unfold.
“With these moving maps that we can now create … this highly interactive visual animation moves people beyond bias, enabling viewers to achieve common ground, fast,” says Illah Nourbakhsh, CREATE Lab director. “After all, the visual cortex is the very fastest way of delivering complex data to our minds.”
“This highly interactive visual animation moves people beyond bias.”
While it’s largely known that refugees often flee conflict in developing nations, the map dispels myths about refugee resettlement, showing that most refugees relocate to neighboring developing countries rather than Western nations.
In fact, developing countries host nearly 90 percent of the world’s refugees. There are an estimated 21.3 million refugees in the world today, with 53 percent hailing from just three countries — Somalia, Afghanistan, and Syria.
The top five countries hosting the most refugees around the world are Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon, Iran, and Ethiopia. All of these countries are considered developing nations by the U.N.
The visualization is part of the Explorables project, a platform by CREATE Labs helping to make big data more digestible. To do this, the project relies on maps to make global crises and complex data more accessible. So far, researchers have created maps addressing global income inequality and fracking earthquakes in the U.S., among others.
The researchers hope this visual approach to depicting some of the world’s biggest problems will help create more interest in crises affecting vulnerable communities around the globe. The interactivity, Nourbakhsh says, helps viewers “become intimate with the data.”
“Instead of mere observers, they become participants in making meaning of data,” he says. “Then, they can work to answer the questions we really should be asking: Why does our world view allow this sort of harm to exist? How can we work together to change the status quo for the better?”