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Must-Read Stories on Refugees From 2017

We collected the best stories on refugees from 2017, as selected by refugee and migration experts and the readers and editors of Refugees Deeply.

Written by Charlotte Alfred, Daniel Howden, Kim Bode Published on Read time Approx. 6 minutes
Rohingya refugees who entered Bangladesh by boat walk toward refugee camps after landing in the Bangladeshi district of Teknaf on November 7, 2017. DIBYANGSHU SARKAR/AFP/Getty Images

We asked refugee and migration experts to select 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 sent in by members of the Refugees Deeply community and our editors’ own favorites. (Let us know what stories you think should also be included via via email, Twitter or Facebook.)

Behzad Yaghmaian

Professor of political economy at Ramapo College of New Jersey

Europe’s ‘Migrant Hunter’” by Jérôme Tubiana in Foreign Affairs

“Europe’s ‘Migrant Hunter’” is an intriguing study of the E.U.’s cash for containment policy. It is a detailed chronicle of the E.U.’s use of militias and warlords as proxy border guards in the effort to control the migration of poor sub-Saharan Africans to Europe. Jérôme Tubiana’s article exposes the E.U.’s role in enabling criminal actors and facilitating the conditions that would eventually result in migrant slave auctions and other grotesque rights violations in Libya. This is a sober indictment of E.U.’s migration policy.

Izza Leghtas

Senior advocate, Refugees International

The Desperate Journey of a Trafficked Girl” by Ben Taub in The New Yorker

I chose this piece because of the extensive research it reflects and the geographic area that Taub covered in the piece. From Benin City to Sicily via Agadez and the Mediterranean Sea, I love that Taub covered the story along the journey of the main character in the piece and so many others. But the main reason this story has stayed with me is that it is so human. Too often, reporting on migration along the Central Mediterranean refers to people as masses, as numbers, and to follow one character and give the reader the time to get to know her is incredibly refreshing. When I read the piece, I had recently returned from Sicily where I was researching the Central Mediterranean migration route, so it is an issue I was already familiar with. But I was deeply moved by Taub’s writing style and the level of care and detail it reflects. I hope we can see more reporting like this.

Peter Tinti

Independent journalist and co-author of “Migrant, Refugee, Smuggler, Savior”

Road to Damascus: The Syrian Refugees Who Want To Go Home” by Sally Hayden and Ziad Ghandour in The Irish Times

This investigation offers rare glimpse into the trials and tribulations of those trying to return home. So much has be written about Syrian refugees trying to reach safety and the hardship they face once they have arrived in Europe. But Hayden and Ghandour offer insight into the agonizing choices that Syrians face in trying to go home. Beyond the decision to stay in Europe or go home, there are considerations such as how to return (which often includes seeking the services of smugglers) and how to survive once they reach Syria. As the war in Syria draws down, the question of whether it is safe for those who fled to return will be one of the most complex humanitarian, legal and moral issues facing the international community. This investigation, for me, is an essential first look into the challenges individuals and institutions are going to face in the coming years.

Guy Goodwin-Gill

Acting director of the Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law

Exit West” by Mohsin Hamid, published by Hamish Hamilton

Just suppose there were no fences to cross, no walls, no deserts, no treacherous seas, no mine fields, but just doors… doors through which you could escape, doors appearing here and there, sometimes known, sometimes whispered about, sometimes hidden, sometimes guarded, yet always manageable. Doors which take you, you know not where, but away, to new beginnings, among new peoples, who are fearful of you at first, then turning to accommodate, understanding that the doors cannot be closed, that new ones will open, and finding that true courage, which is not to attack when afraid. This is “Exit West,” the tale of Nadia and Saeed, their lives and loves rooted in the realities of displacement – loss and longing and the pain of leaving, hardship and deprivation, labor and struggle, resilience and hope, always hope. In his beautiful, elegant prose, Mohsin Hamid carries you into their world, a witness to future history, to the indomitability of the human spirit and those infinite resources of love and compassion which outreach the common brutality of many a politician and functionary. And still they wonder why people flee…

Daniel Howden

Senior editor, Refugees Deeply

Can ‘Laptop Humanitarians’ Solve History’s Largest Refugee Crisis?” by Elizabeth Stuart in Bright Magazine

Working on refugee stories in Greece it has been clear the 2015 crisis was a moment of awakening or political activation for tens of thousands of volunteers all over the world. Much of the coverage of this phenomenon has sought to make simple judgments about the efficacy of the wave of volunteerism – was it a good thing or a bad thing? What few stories have captured was the diversity of the “laptop humanitarians” and the unlikeliness of some of the connections made. Stuart’s piece acknowledges the burnout and mistakes made, the life savings squandered or relationships ruined, as well as some of the more obsessive behavior. She also captures the small acts of keyboard heroism and documents them with primary sources, using social media screengrabs. I don’t care much for the headline but the result is raw and fascinating copy.

Charlotte Alfred

Managing editor, Refugees Deeply

The Ungrateful Refugee” by Dina Nayeri in The Guardian

This essay by writer Dina Nayeri beautifully skewers the “gratitude politics” around refugees in Western countries. Nayeri fled Iran as a child after her mother converted to Christianity. Her whole life, she was constantly reminded to be grateful. When they arrived in Oklahoma, Nayeri describes how the community demanded endless retelling of their escape story and celebrated their role in the family’s rescue, but never asked about their life in Iran. Nayeri deliberates on the complexity of gratitude in her life – at times genuine and overwhelming, at others an oppressive mask that is the price of entry to a new society – to make a political point. Do refugees have to be grateful or successful to be accepted – an undercurrent of much discussion about refugees in the West – or is it true, as Nayeri writes, that “a person’s life is never a bad investment”?

Lazara Marinkovic

Freelance journalist, documentary photographer

“Tightening of Borders Makes Women Invisible Along Balkan Refugee Route” by Preethi Nallu in Refugees Deeply

This story about the experience of women refugees was quite important for me, as a woman, as a journalist, as a person living in Serbia – because it shows what is often left invisible. Also, it is very hard to write about this, as it’s very hard to overcome cultural taboos and other restrictions to even get the story and all the necessary information.

Kimberly Curtis

Correspondent, U.N. Dispatch

The Trauma of Facing Deportation” by Rachel Aviv in The New Yorker

There have been several other stories written about Resignation Syndrome this year but Aviv pulls together the different parts of the issue – the plight of the children, the political debate in Sweden, the attempts by medical professionals to understand – in an engaging fashion that stays with you. Even though Resignation Syndrome is unique to Sweden, it still connects to political debates in other countries such as the future of Dreamers in the U.S. and family reunification in Europe. In the end, it is a story about what it means to belong, and who gets to decide.

Also picked by:

Marina Petrillo

Senior editor of Open Migration and an author, broadcaster and journalist.

Among many beautiful and important stories, there are some who may have been overlooked or were swept away by the urgent narration on the Mediterranean over the summer. The story Rachel Aviv wrote for The New Yorker made a lasting impression on me. She went looking for the refugee children in Sweden who lost consciousness after knowing their families would be deported – a psychic illness called “resignation syndrome.”

Bob Bilheimer

Director, Worldwide Documentaries

The Central Mediterranean: European Priorities, Libyan Realities” by Daniel Howden in Refugees Deeply

And “Deeply Talks: Fallout From E.U. Migration Obsession Rocks Libya

This piece was one of the first, and remains one of the most comprehensive, to explore the nexus of governmental failure, migration mega-trends and human trafficking/migrant smuggling. This piece, in many ways, focused the attention of readers on a violation of fundamental human rights and shed light on the E.U.’s complicity in the emergence of slavery in Libya. This reporting also helped catapult Libya to the top of the list for many other outlets and we are still today seeing new articles about what’s happening there – evidence that the 24-hour news cycle can, and needs to be, broken. The sad reality is that what’s happening in Libya is also happening in many other places around the world, as human traffickers are unrelenting in finding ways to exploit vulnerable people such as migrants and refugees.

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

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