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Must-Read Stories on Refugees From 2016

We collected the best stories on refugees from 2016, as selected by refugee and migration experts and the editors of Refugees Deeply.

Written by Charlotte Alfred, Daniel Howden, Preethi Nallu Published on Read time Approx. 5 minutes
Children play at the Ritsona refugee camp, north of Athens, on December 21, 2016. AFP/Louisa GOULIAMAKI

We asked refugee experts to pick their favorite stories on migration and refugees from the past year and explain why they are must-read material. Here is a selection of their choices, as well as some of our editors’ own favorites.

Kathleen Newland

Senior fellow and cofounder of the Migration Policy Institute and author of All at Sea

Italian Villages Welcome Refugees to Avoid Oblivion

This story resonated with me because it shows the mutual benefits to be derived by refugees and the communities that welcome them. The Italian village of Satriano, part of a network of declining villages where low birth rates and out-migration of the young have left them close to disappearance, sees refugees bringing hope for revival. It also shows the importance of the role of individuals as they make mutual, sometimes reluctant, accommodation to the unfamiliar and learn to live with each other.

Alexander Betts

Professor of forced migration and international affairs and director of the Refugee Studies Centre at the University of Oxford

The Missing Voices in the Refugee Crisis Response: Refugees Themselves

In a year of international summits, refugees themselves were all too rarely given a platform. Yet around the world, some of the best solutions have some from the skills, talents and aspirations of refugees. Throughout the year, Fast Company showcased a range of innovative responses, and this piece by Jessica Leber focused on how refugees are helping themselves despite the failure of high-level politics.

Leonard Doyle

Spokesperson and head of communications at the International Organization for Migration

Latin America’s Schindler: A Forgotten Hero of the 20th Century

One of the great untold stories of the last century. This Guardian piece from Ewen MacAskill and Jonathan Franklin is all about a forgotten IOM guy who happened to save 23,000 people from Pinochet’s Gulag. An enthralling long read.

Solon Ardittis

Managing director of Eurasylum and co-editor of “Migration Policy Practice”

The New Odyssey

My favorite read in 2016 was by far Patrick Kingsley’s “The New Odyssey.” Kingsley’s account of his year-long embedment in 17 refugee-relevant countries was an enlightening and fully educational experience. The book not only succeeds, often in a very poignant manner, in putting faces behind the numbers and statistics with which we researchers juggle every day, it also provides a range of valuable insights into the constantly evolving modus operandi of smugglers in a number of countries of origin and transit, as well as into the exact praxis of immigration and border control authorities in key European countries of destination.

Jeff Crisp

Former head of policy development at UNHCR, associate fellow at Chatham House and research associate at the Refugee Studies Center

How NGOs Took Over Migrant Rescues in the Mediterranean

2016 was an almost unremittingly bleak year for refugees and displaced people, characterized by new emergencies, protracted crises, border closures and involuntary repatriations. But one of the year’s most positive trends has been the way in which civil society has stepped up to the task of mitigating human suffering, including the Syrian White Helmets, volunteers who flocked to the Greek islands, the Canadian families and community groups who are sponsoring the resettlement of Syrian refugees. The growing role of civil society, and its ability to fill the gaps left by states, the U.N. and the large international NGOs, has been witnessed in a particularly dramatic manner in the Mediterranean Sea, where new actors such as MOAS (Migrant Offshore Aid Station), Sea-Watch and the Boat Refugee Foundation have taken a lead in rescuing refugees who are at risk on the high seas. All too predictably, Frontex, the E.U.’s border control agency, has disparaged these efforts, falsely claiming that rescue organizations are actively colluding with the unscrupulous human smugglers who provide the flimsy boats on which refugees risk their lives. An outrageous accusation that does a grave disservice to the citizens who are mitigating the loss of life in the Mediterranean by funding and lending their expertise to the rescue organizations.

Daniel Howden

Senior editor, Refugees Deeply

Refugees Shouldn’t Be Bargaining Chips

One of the earliest and certainly clearest explanation of the downsides to the E.U.’s attempt to buy its way out of the refugee crisis in its deal with Turkey. Ben Rawlence shows how Niger and Kenya now viewed refugees as an asset to be sweated by their ruling elites. It helped frame a wider understanding of the consequences of policy decisions.

Preethi Nallu

Senior editor, Refugees Deeply

War in Translation: Giving Voice to the Women of Syria

Lina Mounzer’s “War in Translation” remains my most memorable read of the year. Mounzer’s descriptions of bearing witness to the experience of becoming displaced, while translating the accounts of Syrian women, are terse yet poignant. Through the dispatches of these women, who were trapped amid sieges and fled during evacuations, Mounzer sheds light on the gray zones of the Syrian conflict with nuance and directness. This story first caught my attention because it fits the editorial remit of both Refugees Deeply and Syria Deeply. It is a solid reminder of why writers who are intimately connected to the surroundings they are writing about – the language, culture and politics – are uniquely positioned to present stories of displacement.

Charlotte Alfred

Managing editor, Refugees Deeply

In Pursuit of the African Dream

This story of two Ethiopian brothers’ attempts to reach South Africa is a heartbreaking family drama, especially when reporter Ty McCormick brings the family its first news of one of the brothers, now locked up in a Kenyan jail. His report on the dangers of the so-called Southern Route – from the Horn of Africa to South Africa – is also an important reminder that despite focus on Europe, a larger migration crisis is taking place within the continent of Africa. The brothers’ story also highlights the complex reasons people flee home, even in countries experiencing economic growth, illustrating the potential, outlined by Michael Clemens, for E.U. aid-for-migration policies to backfire.

Heaven Crawley

Research professor at the Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations at Coventry University

Borders and Walls: Do Barriers Deter Unauthorized Migration?

During the course of 2016, fences and walls gained increased political potency, from Trump’s call to “build the wall” to the cascading border closures across Europe triggered and promoted by Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban. This piece by Reece Jones serves as a timely reminder that the violence with which borders are associated is neither new nor particular to the E.U. Fences and walls, Jones argues, rarely solve the problem they were intended to address and almost invariably funnel people through more dangerous routes, leading to increased violence and death. But they serve as a powerful and evocative political and physical symbol of the boundaries between “them” and “us,” aimed at convincing the wider public that their respective governments are “taking back control” and, in so doing, reaffirming the primacy of the nation state.

The explanations above have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

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