IWM’s Refugees Exhibition

By Shanzé Shah


Each section provides stories from refugees through artwork, audio accounts and in-depth factual data, to help you understand the difficulty in this journey. Something I found really engaging was the way the exhibition placed the stories of refugees from different eras side bytoside: from those escaping Nazi Germany to those escaping ethnic cleansing in Srebrenica. It helped put into perspective how even though we are progressing with time, the difficulties faced by refugees all ring with a similar tone.


The exhibition provides a detailed history of refugees and migration. Towards the middle of the exhibition you are provided with a large scale visual timeline of refugees in the First World War, to the Partition in India, to the Vietnam War, to the Iraq War, to Afghanistan, to the current conflicts today in Syria, Ukraine, Somalia, Myanmar and Israel-Palestine. 

The exhibition also has a detailed section depicting the asylum process in the United Kingdom and the history of refugees in this country. There are some great visual graphs and charts showing how the UK compares with other countries in accepting refugees and how the process has only got more constrained over the years.  There are also some posters and newspaper cuttings showing the public’s rhetoric towards refugees since the First World War. 


There is a lot to explore and get lost in throughout this exhibition, looking at the journeys of displaced persons over the past 100 years. One particular aspect of this journey that is depicted immensely well is a look inside the life of a refugee in a camp. Towards the end of the exhibition there is a film installation where you are surrounded with a running video of daily life in the Moria camp on the island of Lesbos, Greece. It helps with understanding the everyday hardships the refugees in the camp face. Most have to wait in these camps for at least months but mostly years, and unless you have visited a camp or worked in one, it isn’t an experience you can imagine. 


I can say without doubt that this was the best exhibition, of any kind, I have been to this year. It was wonderful to see all the direct involvement from people who have been on this journey and the honest representation of today’s refugee crisis. Go visit as soon as you can. 



Further information about the exhibition can be found on the IWM website:


By using its platform, the Imperial War Museum (IWM) draws attention to a number of important issues affecting migrants, which is why we at NMM are proud to make IWM our Hero of November. 


I highly suggest that everyone and anyone goes to see the Imperial War Museum’s Refugees Exhibition in London, open until May 2021.


This has to be one of the most thorough and in-depth exhibitions I have been to - and it is free to boot! It explores the journey of migrants and their stories from the First World War until today. Of course, that seems like a lot of ground to cover but the exhibition does so in an engaging manner through art-work, photographic accounts, sculptures and personal belongings; all of this intertwined with providing a historic insight into the plight of refugees and the constant battle they fight, from having to leave their home countries to settling in new ones. 


The exhibition is broken down by the following questions:


Could you leave everything behind?

Where do you go to find safety?

What would you take?

What would make you go?



Thank you to IWM for allowing us to use these photographs taken by Shanzé Shah