Refugees was a free season of exhibitions, new artistic commissions and immersive events taking place across IWM London and IWM North. 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 gave us the space to consider our own responses to similar experiences and dilemmas.

Why do refugees leave their homes?

Refugees leaving their homes in Bosnia

Since the First World War, countless lives have been shattered by conflict. Refugees across the globe have had to leave their homes and make journeys to settle somewhere else. 

What forces people to flee all that they know and seek a new life elsewhere? 

Watch the film >


Whose Land?

Meduula rap

See a newly commissioned artwork by Zimbabwean-born artist, poet and rapper Meduulla, drawing on the history of Zimbabwe, referencing the land reform bill, conflict and mass migration. 

Meduulla’s piece considers the inner conflict migrants faced once they had left Zimbabwe and the ongoing legacy of this conflict on young people today. 

Watch now >

Contemporary conflict

Aid Workers: Why we do it

© IWM MSF identity card issued to Dr Natalie Roberts in 2015, when she was the Emergency Coordinator for MSF’s response in Yemen.
© IWM MSF identity card issued to Dr Natalie Roberts in 2015, when she was the Emergency Coordinator for MSF’s response in Yemen.

Being an aid worker can mean facing hard choices and dangerous environments. Discover what keeps three aid workers going in difficult times. 

Ai Weiwei on History of Bombs

Portrait of Ai Weiwei
Courtesy Lisson Gallery. Photography by Gao Yuan.

Artist Ai Weiwei has filled IWM London's iconic atrium with his artwork History of Bombs.

Discover how he approached creating an artwork for this space and the themes explored in the piece. 

Watch the interview >

Aid Workers

Explore some of the stories and objects featured in Aid Workers: Ethics Under Fire at IWM North.

ICRC ‘Explosive Remnants of War’ warning sign from Iraq, 2019. In Iraq, ICRC employs local specialist staff to clear mines, bombs and other devices so that rebuilding work can begin and displaced people can return home.
Contemporary conflict

Aid Workers: Facing Risk

Aid work can be risky, especially in areas that are experiencing conflict.. How do people deal with the dangers they face whilst working to support others? 

Saleem Ghadhban is an International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) field officer in weapon contamination in Iraq. Saleem had been working in mine detection for more than 10 years before joining ICRC’s team in 2016.
© Ibrahim Sherkhan / ICRC Saleem Ghadhban is an International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) field officer in weapon contamination in Iraq.
Karrimor rucksack used by Gareth Owen. Gareth has been an aid worker for almost 30 years, taking this rucksack on many of his most challenging assignments.
Karrimor rucksack used by Gareth Owen. Gareth has been an aid worker for almost 30 years, taking this rucksack on many of his most challenging assignments.

Researching Refugee Experiences

Refugees: Forced to Flee at IWM London explores a century of refugee experiences and features research projects supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Economic and Social Research Council. Learn more about the projects and the stories they have uncovered. 

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Britain And The Commonwealth Since 1945

Translating Asylum

When people are displaced by conflict, being able to communicate isn’t always straightforward. Translating Asylum is an ongoing research project that aims to investigate the different approaches to providing translation and interpretation services.

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First World War

Tracing the Belgian Refugees

The largest influx of refugees in British history happened during the First World War – 250,000 Belgians fled to Britain during the conflict. But what became of those who made the journey? Researchers have worked to uncover the stories of these people and their experiences.

Reckoning with Refugeedom Teaser Image
First World War

Reckoning with Refugeedom

Reckoning with Refugeedom is an ongoing project conducted by the University of Manchester.

The project aims to put refugees more firmly and centrally into modern history by accessing the perspectives of refugees from different backgrounds, through petitions and letters to those in positions of authority, but also personal correspondence and other source material.

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Contemporary conflict

Refugee Hosts

More than five million refugees from the Syria Conflict have sought refuge in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. The Refugee Hosts project explores local responses to displacement in the Middle East, considering the experiences of both refugees from Syria and the communities which host them.

Crossing the Mediterranean Sea by Boat graphic
Contemporary conflict

Crossing the Mediterranean Sea by Boat

What is it like to attempt to travel across the Mediterranean Sea by boat? What do those who do so face on their journeys?

Researchers for the Crossing the Mediterranean Sea by Boat project interviewed 271 people, most of whom had already crossed the Mediterranean by boat, 

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Dear Habib

Habib is an Afghan refugee who came to the UK as an unaccompanied child asylum seeker. This animation explores his journey, his separation from his family and how he has built a new community in the Midlands.


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Art And Design

Shorsh Saleh: Paintings and Carpets

Artist Shorsh Saleh has created a series of works for the Refugees exhibition at IWM London, including five miniature paintings and two handwoven carpets based on Saleh’s journey from Iraqi Kurdistan to the UK. 

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Art And Design

Indrė Šerpytytė: Constellations

Artist Indrė Šerpytytė has represented various refugee journeys across the Mediterranean through lights in her new work Constellations, now on display at IWM London as part of Refugees: Forced to Flee. 

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Art And Design

Grace Schwindt: Remembering Home

Artist Grace Schwindt’s new work Remembering Home is a sculpture and audio artwork, created for IWM’s Refugee season. Each sculpture is based on a conversation with an individual refugee, in which they recalled their home before conflict. The sculptures are accompanied by an audio piece, inspired by the sounds and events each refugee remembered.

Related content

Second World War

Edith Jacobowitz and Millisle Refugee Farm

Among those Jewish children brought to safety by the `Kindertransport’ was 14-year old Edith Jacobowitz. Edith arrived in Northern Ireland with her younger brother Gert in June 1939, having left her home in Berlin shortly after both parents were arrested by the Nazis.

Drawing by kindertransport refugee
© IWM (EPH 3902)

6 Stories Of The Kindertransport

In 1938 and 1939, nearly 10,000 children fleeing the persecution of Jews in Greater Germany (Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, and the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia), were brought to Britain on the Kindertransport ('children’s transports').

Still from © IWM (ARY 172) - young Holocaust survivors on their way to Britain

Rare Footage Of Young Holocaust Survivors On Their Way To Britain

In August 1945, a group of teenagers and younger children who had survived the concentration camps were flown to the UK by the RAF. The group of refugees arrived from Prague airport on Stirling bombers, touching down at the aerodrome at Crosby on Eden in Cumberland, where they began their long recuperation. 

Colony of Belgian workers in Britain. The bond store at the National Projectile Factory, showing stacks of 8 inch shells. Birtley-Elisabethville, Co. Durham, 1918.
© IWM Q 27735
First World War

How Belgian Refugees Kept the British Army Going During the First World War

During the First World War, 250,000 Belgians came to Britain fleeing the conflict that had taken over their country. Some of those who came would end up playing an important role in the war effort. 


A Face to Open Doors Hero Image
Contemporary conflict

A Face To Open Doors

A Face to Open Doors is an immersive experience created by award-winning artists Anagram. It invites visitors to consider the systems used to process people fleeing conflict by taking them into an imaginary future world where international movement is policed by intelligent machines. 

Exhibitions and Activities

A Médecins Sans Frontières Land Cruiser in Aid Workers Exhibition
Exhibitions and Installations

Aid Workers: Ethics Under Fire

IWM North
Until 26 September 2021

© IWM, Ai Weiwei, History of Bombs 2020
© IWM, Ai Weiwei, History of Bombs 2020
Exhibitions and Installations

Ai Weiwei History of Bombs

IWM London
Until 5 September 2021

©Rob Pinney


IWM London & IWM North

1 August 2020 to 26 September 2021

Learning Resources

Explore stories of refugees from IWM's collection in these two learning resources supporting cross-curricular learning. 

  • Graphic tile for learning resource Health and Wellbeing: Where is Home

    What is Home? Memories of a Refugee

    Health and Wellbeing

    This resource introduces students to Gulwali who talks about his memories of home in Afghanistan before the war forced his family to pay people smugglers to get him and his brother out of the country to, hoped for, safety in Europe.

  • Literacy Learning Resource graphic

    Refugees and Evacuees: Letters and Poetry


    How evacuees and refugees have used literacy and creative writing to reflect on their experience and express their feelings.