Starting with great intensity in the summer of 2015, the Western media began to show the world, with alarmist tones and further alarming pictures, a ”European refugee crisis.” For the general public, this may have come as a shocking surprise, but for anyone who had been following the news more closely, the truth was that refugees had been trickling, then streaming, then pouring into Europe for years prior—through Spain, Italy and Greece from Afghanistan, East Africa and many places beyond.

Indeed, for anyone with an international worldview, the magnifying glass that was placed on the islands of Greece in 2015 was misplaced. After all, the problem was by no means limited to Europe—of the record-breaking 60+ million people worldwide who have been forcibly displaced from their homes, only a fraction are arriving to the borders of Europe.

Of these 60 million, a large number are internally displaced persons (IDPs)—uprooted from their homes for a variety of reasons, ranging from civil war to natural disasters. Many other migrants around the world are not even touched by war but a host of other stressors: economic crises, environmental degradation, religious persecution.

Today, in recognition of World Refugee Day, our editors have compiled a list of 14 stories that shine some light of understanding on refugee issues around the world. The approaches range from traditionally photojournalistic to highly conceptual. Some draw upon events from several years in the past, speaking to the deep roots of our current situation.

Ultimately, we recognize that photography and awareness can only play a small role in solving these problems—but we hope this work can offer some insight and maybe, even, a spur to action.

—The editors of LensCulture

The Dream: New Ways of Conveying The Refugee Crisis

Mixing pinhole photography with award-winning photojournalistic frames, this photobook masterpiece attempts to break through our repetitive representation of the refugee crisis and tell the story in a fresh, powerful, poetic manner. By Fabio Bucciarelli.

Papers: Discarded Along Europe’s Refugee Trails

Along the paths running through the no-man’s land north of Greece, temporary identity papers litter the soil. A tiny, but touching representation of what the refugees must discard on their way to the promises of Europe. By Eugenio Grosso.

The Stateless, Placeless Desert

Staged and shot in deserted landscapes, these images examine the eternal relationship between body and home in contemporary Iranian society as well as for the swelling number of refugees around the world. By Gohar Dashti.

Environmental Migrants: The Last Illusion

Floods in Bangladesh; droughts in Kenya; extreme cold in Mongolia—by the middle of the century, over 2% of the world population will be composed of environmental migrants. The question is: where will they go? By Alessandro Grassani.

74: The Yazidis’ Plight

Threatened by genocidal violence from the Islamic State, the Yazidi people are desperately struggling not just for their religious identity—but their very existence. By Christian Werner.

On the Shore

Over half a million refugees reached the shores of Lesvos in 2015, fleeing war and persecution, seeking a better life for their families. This series of touching portraits breaks down the filter of distance, offering an emotional connection with the subjects and a glimpse into their lives and shattered pasts. By Fernando del Borro.

The Swallows of Syria

Women and children refugees from civil war in Syria—these former middle class women now live stark, lonely, nearly hopeless lives in Lebanon. By Matilde Gattoni.


The tale of the countless Central American immigrants who, with great resilience and fearless singularity of purpose, brave great dangers while crossing Mexico in the hopes of reaching their promised land: the United States of America. By Michelle Frankfurter.

The Human Apart: On the Borders of Hungary and Serbia

Only barbed wire and traces of things left behind by migrants are visible here at the closed border—a powerful set of photographs taken on a single day in September 2015. By David Molina.

Reaching Europe

After giving up their life savings and braving death, what happens to the African migrants who actually succeed in crossing the Mediterrenean? A report on a migrant “reception center” on the coast of Sicily, where refugees are welcomed with something approaching incarceration. By Sofie Amalie Klougart.

We, the Invisible Children of Rome

A moving story—told in words, pictures and video—of the illegal, migrant youth living around Rome’s central train station. Although they came to Europe for a new beginning, they find themselves being preyed upon and taken advantage of with little recourse for help. By Cristina Mastrandrea.

Kiribati: Disappearing?

While the world’s nations continue to bicker over borders and languages and religions, one country threatens to disappear from the very face of the Earth within our lifetimes. By Vlad Sokhin.

Youth Denied

More than one million immigrants (many adolescents or barely over 18) are scrambling to stay alive in Greece—kids who have not been able to experience their youth. By Alessandro Penso.

Meet on the Island of All Together

An award-winning short video about Europeans meeting with new Syrian refugees one-on-one in front of a camera is both light-hearted and serious—a humanist view of the crisis. Video by Philip Brink and Marieke van der Velden.