Instagramming the refugee crisis

Last week The New Yorker published a piece about a project called “Traces of Exile” by photojournalist Tomas van Houtryve. He found hundreds of photographs on Instagram taken by refugees along their journey from their home countries to Europe, which he called “digital breadcrumbs”. He then overlaid them on video he took in the exact same place the refugees took their photographs.

The result offers an interesting look into how refugees see themselves and how they want to appear to their friends and family. In some photos there is a stark difference between the landscape, and the pictures they post. All of the photos show only young men, which while limiting, still gives a unique first person perspective of their journeys.

You can see a few examples below, and more in the article online.

Lesvos, Greece, 39.3159492°N 26.3382652°E

Piraeus, Greece, 37.9427422171585°N 23.64708423614502°E

Another way that Instagram has been used to document the refugee crisis is through the #everyday accounts like @everydaymiddleeast and @everydayrefugees which document life in the region, and also the daily lives of refugees all over the world. A select group of photographers contribute to the feeds, like two-time Pulitzer Prize winning Associated Press photographer Muhammed Muheisen. Full disclosure, I’m thrilled to also contribute to the @everydaymiddleeast feed.


Instagram is also a good place for visual campaigns. Last year, during the UN General Assembly, UNICEF asked a few illustrators to create art on Instagram related to refugee children with the hashtag #illustrators4children. The result was a variety of poignant illustrations detailing the hardships and the childhood innocence marked by tragedy of refugee children.


This is my favorite GIF, in which refugee tents morph into books. I appreciate it for the sense of hopefulness in an otherwise often bleak crisis.

@unicef are calling for artists show them what you wish for refugee and migrant children using the #illustrators4children

A video posted by Michael Arnold (@mkrnld) on



By Tara Todras-Whitehill

Tara worked as a staff photographer for the Associated Press for four years in the Middle East, covering the uprisings, revolutions and numerous elections in the Arab world. Her photography has been featured in the New York Times, National Geographic and Washington Post, among many others. She also works on personal projects focused on women's issues. Her passion is trying to portray strong women changing their lives and the world around them.

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