10 Things we Learnt About the Refugee Crisis from Journeys Drawn

Reflecting on what we learnt from our 2018-2019 exhibition this Refugee Week.


  • Exhibitions

Our exhibition Journeys Drawn: Illustration from the Refugee Crisis taught us a lot. Here are few lessons learnt to think about this Refugee Week.

Lesson 1: that life can seem simultaneously hopeless and hopeful

George Butler drew his first sight of Azaz, Syria: “children playing on a burnt-out government tank”.

Lesson 2: that drawing on location involves unanticipated challenges

At a makeshift camp in Belgrade, refugees would burn anything they could get their hands on to keep warm. The thick smoke permeated Butler's sketchpad so that every time he put pen to paper it gave off a smoky smell.

Lesson 3: that drawing can be the only way to communicate

While volunteering at refugee camps, Gideon Summerfield found that "there were people there from all over the world – none of them spoke much English or each other’s languages, so drawing was a way to communicate”.

Lesson 4: that people will sacrifice almost anything to make it to safety

Summerfield was shocked to observe refugees in the Calais 'Jungle' literally dropping everything to run for a big lorry to try to reach the UK - even food. "They knew they might not get any more food until the next distribution”.

Lesson 5: that in addition to myriad other dangers, refugees are vulnerable to new diseases

In the Calais 'Jungle', Nick Ellwood met an elderly man suffering from the flu for the first time in his life.

Lesson 6: that 'normal' is a relative concept

When Toby Morison asked the 10 year old Yousef to draw something from his life, the young refugee drew himself and his friends playing football - surrounded by tanks and missiles.

Lesson 7: that a mobile phone is a lifeline, not a luxury

Morison encountered many refugees whose only possession was a mobile phone. He observed them using these phones to look at photographs of their children - "a precious link to home".

Lesson 8: that refugees face more risks than we can probably imagine, even after leaving their war-torn homelands

Many refugees face untold dangers on their journeys to asylum - escaping the violence that has engulfed their homes is just the beginning. David Foldvari met a 15 year old Eritrean boy who’d been kidnapped and tortured for ransom in Libya. Eventually released, he went aboard an overloaded boat to cross the Mediterranean, only to almost drown when the boat capsized.

Lesson 9: that refugees often travel in unconventional - and unsafe - ways to try to reach asylum

Iranian animator and refugee Majid Adin underwent an epic, hazard-filled journey, culminating in 4 hours locked inside a refrigerated cargo truck. He eventually reached the UK and was able to claim asylum. He went on to win a competition to create the first ever music video for Elton John's hit song 'Rocket Man'.

Lesson 10: that refugees are often leaving behind good lives with good jobs because they have no choice

Reportage illustrator Olivier Kugler met Syrian refugees from all walks of life, from Sherine, a physiotherapist, to Rezan, a fashion designer - now both stuck in the Calais 'Jungle'.

Want to learn more? Watch some of the animations from the exhibition and download our free resources that use illustration to understand the refugee experience.