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Exhibition covers 100 years of refugee experiences

26 November 20200 comments

A major new installation at London’s Imperial War Museum examines refugee experiences throughout history and ongoing issues faced by those affected.

The ‘Refugees: Forced to Flee’ initiative looks at a century of humanitarian crises across the globe with the event being delivered through two major exhibitions, a new artistic commission and a series of immersive events.

It was sparked by the current unprecedented global displacement crisis.

“The world is witnessing the highest levels of displacement on record, but with media attention less prevalent than it was in 2015, now more than ever it’s important for IWM to bring 100 years of refugee voices and experiences back to the forefront,” Imperial War Museum curator Simon Offord said.

The exhibition confronts common perceptions by focusing on deeply personal experiences of people who have been forced to flee their homes and the challenges they face in making their journey to safety and re-settling. The exhibition also highlights the UK’s response to refugee crises over the last 100 years. 

Data from the UN shows almost 80 million people had been forcibly displaced as of the end of 2019. This represents 1 in every 97 people on the planet and the highest level recorded in 70 years.

These tens of millions of people were internally displaced as a result of conflict and violence in 61 countries. The majority are displaced in Syria, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Yemen and Afghanistan.

Another 5.1 million people in 95 countries are displaced because of natural disasters.

Objects from the museum’s collection are used to illustrate the refugee crises arising from World War One, World War Two, the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus, the Yugoslav Wars (1991-2001) and the Iraq War (2003-2011). The continuing wars in Afghanistan and Syria; and the attempts by refugees from these countries to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe are also featured.

On display are several paintings by Iraqi refugee Shorsh Saleh depicting his experiences over two years “illegally” crossing borders and eight years waiting for asylum in the UK.

‘Life in a Camp’ is a 30 square-metre film installation, where the visitor is surrounded by scenes from the Moria refugee camp on the Greek Island of Lesbos.

Designed to hold 2000 people, Moria became home to more than 18,000, mainly Syrian, refugees. The images include the effects of the devastating fire in September 2020, which left more than 12,000 people without shelter.

The exhibition also depicts ‘welcome’ to Britain of 10,000 Kindertransport children granted asylum in Britain after the 1938 Nazi “Kristallnacht” pogrom.

The children had to leave their parents behind and have a ‘guarantor’ in the UK to provide for their upkeep.

Take a virtual look at the exhibitions here: