Here’s What the Everyday Lives of Refugees Look Like

Ukhia settlement, Bangladesh, 2016. Munni, 8, jumps rope with her friends at Ukhia settlement, Bangladesh. They all attend a nearby community school.

Copyright Lynsey Addario

Lately, all eyes are on refugees in Europe, but they are just some of the nearly 60 million people fleeing war and persecution around the world—the highest refugee population in history, according to UNHCR, the U.N. refugee agency. The crisis is a global one. 

An exhibit on display at Los Angeles’ Annenberg Space for Photography until Aug. 21, “Refugee,” underscores that point, with images from five international photographers whose work spans fine art, portraiture, fashion, and documentary photography. 

“We feel it essential to recognize the magnitude of this issue and how it goes well beyond any one community or country. … While the topic may be overwhelming, this exhibition aims to illuminate the individual experiences of this population and put a human face on a staggering number,” said Cinny Kennard, executive director of the Annenberg Foundation, via email.

Border of Croatia and Slovenia, 2015. A mother guides her children through a line of Slovenian police at a border crossing point. Long delays caused by government travel restrictions increased tension and anger. 

Copyright Tom Stoddart

New York, 2016. 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.

Copyright Martin Schoeller

Say Tha Mar Gyi, Myanmar, 2015. “A.” cooks in her family home in Say Tha Mar Gyi Camp. She is married, but her husband left her within the last year to return to his family.

Copyright Lynsey Addario

All five photographers worked on commissions from the Annenberg Foundation, with support from UNHCR, to produce the work in the exhibit. American photojournalist Lynsey Addario zeroed in on displaced people living in Bangladesh and Myanmar, while British photojournalist Tom Stoddart focused on those seeking refuge in Greece, Croatia, Slovenia, Serbia, and Germany. Dakar, Senegal-based fine art and fashion photographer Omar Victor Diop’s work shows refugees from the Central African Republic in Cameroon, and photographer Graciela Iturbide highlights refugees in Colombia as well as Central American youth seeking protection in her native Mexico. New York–based portrait photographer Martin Schoeller’s images, meanwhile, present resettled refugees in the United States in his signature hyperdetailed style.

“The exhibition aims to provide a full narrative of refugees’ journeys. Specifically, by representing refugees who have settled in the United States, we hope to highlight how the refugee crisis is not just a remote issue taking place afar, but also relevant to all of us here in America,” said Pat Lanza, the Annenberg Space for Photography’s director of talent and programming, via email.

Left:  Tenosique, Mexico, 2015. This young couple from Honduras met in La 72 shelter and fell in love. During the nearly three months they have been at La 72, they have applied and been approved for refugee status. They are ready to start a new life in Mexico. Right:  Tenosique, Mexico, 2015. A young couple unwinds in La 72 shelter.  While awaiting the verdict on their applications, asylum-seekers are allowed to stay in the shelter for up to three months but must try to earn a living.

Copyright Graciela Iturbide

Shamlapur, Bangladesh, 2016. A Rohingya child reads the Quran at a madrassa in a mosque. There are very few opportunities for Rohingya children to attend school, but most children receive some education by studying the Quran at the local madrassa.

Copyright Lynsey Addario

Lesbos, Greece, 2015. A father celebrates his family’s safe passage to Lesbos after a stormy crossing over the Aegean Sea from Turkey.

Copyright Tom Stoddart

While one of the most iconic recent images of the refugee crisis—Dogan News Agency photographer Nilufer Demir’s photo of drowned 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi on a Turkish beach—shows the most immediate, horrific consequences of the situation, many of the photographs in the exhibition take the long view by presenting individuals engaged in ordinary activities, like jumping rope or preparing a meal. The intention, the exhibition’s organizers said, is to remind viewers that refugees are trying to rebuild their lives in the face of unimaginable circumstances.

“We believe this is an exhibit of hope and resilience that portrays refugees with the dignity that they deserve. As with all our exhibitions, we hope [‘Refugee’] informs and inspires the public by illuminating the human experience through powerful imagery and stories,” Kennard said. 

Reichstag building, Berlin, 2015. Briali Muhaghgh; his wife, Hanifa; and their children attempted the difficult sea crossing from Turkey to Lesbos in two boats, but Hanifa’s craft ran into trouble. Briali and his 8-year-old daughter, Roya, landed on Lesbos convinced that Hanifa and the other three children had died. Still, Briali and Roya pressed on. After learning that the others were alive, Briali paid the smugglers again and reunited the family in Berlin.

Copyright Tom Stoddart

Buenaventura, Colombia, 2015. Children in Puente Nayero play an improvised game of table football. The success of the Puente Nayero Humanitarian Space has encouraged residents on the neighboring street of Punta Icaco to begin organizing to create their own humanitarian space. 

Copyright Graciela Iturbide