2 April to 29 November 2020

Coming soon

IWM London

Free event

Subject to any further disruption or restrictions due to coronavirus, IWM plans to open its Refugees season this summer.

It doesn’t matter who you are or where you are from. Conflict creates crisis and chaos.

War turns people's worlds upside down, from the First World War to the present day, countless lives have been affected by conflict. Ordinary people are forced to make extraordinary decisions – should they stay or go?

Collections image of refugees
German civilians, fleeing the Soviet advance, pick their way across the River Elbe on a partially destroyed railway bridge at Tangermünde, May 1945 © IWM (KY 12151F)

Refugees: Forced to Flee, the new exhibition at IWM London, explores a century of refugee experiences, from Nazi Germany’s persecution of Jews and the Kindertransport, to the Calais Jungle and the treacherous Mediterranean crossings.

Cutting-edge research supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)  has provided the exhibition with unparalleled resources to tell stories of refugees across the world. These stories combine new research and real-life experiences. Over 80 photographs, oral histories, documents and objects are on display, many for the first time.

Refugees being escorted out of the Muslim old town area of Mostar in Bosnia after heavy fighting between Croat and Serb forces, June 1992
Refugees being escorted out of Mostar, Bosnia in June 1992 © Kevin Weaver

The exhibition confronts common  perceptions by focussing 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. 

Mari-Anne Le Du clasps a treasured book in the ruins of her house in the village of Buron, Normandy, July 1944.
Mari-Anne Le Du clasps a treasured book in the ruins of her house in Normandy, July 1944. © IWM (B 7700)

What do refugees fleeing German invasion in Belgium during the First World War have in common with those fleeing ethnic cleansing in 1990s Bosnia? From physical journeys to government barriers, this exhibition proves that regardless of time or place, the impact of conflict endures in radically altering ordinary lives.

Discover Eugeen-Marie Bosteels’s journey with his family from Belgium to England in 1914. See Emmanuel Seinfeld’s six-point star badge, marked with the word ‘Jude’ and learn about his daughter, who came to Britain on Kindertransport. Watch an animation following Habib Rezaie’s precarious journey as an unaccompanied child seeking asylum from Afghanistan to the UK. 

Refugees: Forced to Flee also includes new commissioned artworks by London-based contemporary artists Shorsh Saleh, Grace Schwindt and Indrė Šerpytytė.

“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.”

Simon Offord, Curator of Second World War and Mid-20th Century at IWM.


Refugees: Forced to Flee is part of Refugees, a free season of exhibitions, artistic commissions and immersive events taking place across IWM London and IWM North in 2020. Unlocking the personal stories of people who have been forced to flee their homes and those who work to support and care for them, Refugees gives us the space to consider our own responses to similar experiences and dilemmas.

In partnership with


IWM London building

IWM London
Lambeth Road

  • Lambeth North
  • Elephant & Castle