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An Intimate Look At The World’s Refugee Crisis

Five famous photographers put a face on an alarming problem that impacts some 60 million people worldwide.

Thanks to the effects of war, economic instability, and climate change, the world is currently enduring the worst refugee crisis since World War II. According to annual figures released from the United Nations, there are almost 60 million refugees and internally displaced people around the globe right now. To put that in perspective, that’s one in every 122 people, or about how many Americans would be displaced if everyone living in California and Texas found themselves suddenly homeless.

Not that you could tell the scope of the problem from the world community’s often heartless response to the problem. To shed light on the world’s displaced, LA’s Annenberg Space for Photography is hosting Refugee, an exhibition that explores the lives of refugees around the world in Bangladesh, Cameroon, Colombia, Croatia, Germany, Greece, Mexico, Myanmar, Serbia, Slovenia, and the United States.

New Americans: Portraits of refugees who have recently resettled in the United States as part of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program. From left to right: Bhimal, 42, Bhutan; Maryna, 27, Belarus; Patricia, 22, Democratic Republic of the Congo.© Martin Schoeller

In all, five photographers took part in the project. Pulitzer Prize-winning human rights photographer Lynsey Addario aimed her lens at the Rohingya Muslims, a disenfranchised group called the “boat people” by the media who are fleeing systemic violence within predominantly Buddhist Myanmar to Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Fashion photographer Omar Victor Diop, meanwhile, created colorful portraits of refugee mothers and their babies who escaped from the Central African Republic to Cameroon. Martin Schoeller, a New Yorker staff photographer known for his hyper-detailed close ups, shot the faces of resettled refugees here in the U.S. in his signature style. British photojournalist Tom Stoddart embedded himself in smugglers’ boats to shoot the journey of refugees fleeing from Syria to Europe. And finally, Graciela Iturbide turned her lens on the families in Colombia who have been displaced by guerilla warfare and cartel violence.

Although the photographers approached very different groups with their signature styles, the common thread linking all their works is humanity in the face of tragedy. Some politicians (ahem) might think there’s a difference between Americans and the dispossessed beyond mere circumstance, but if there is, the objectivity of glass and celluloid doesn’t see it.

Refugee will be on exhibition until August 21.

All Photos: courtesy Annenberg Space for Photography. Installation Photos: Imeh Bryant

About the author

John Brownlee is a design writer who lives in Somerville, Massachusetts. You can email him at john.brownlee+fastco@gmail.com.

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