Forced Migration

Burundian refugees fleeing political violence arrive in Mboko, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 2015

Burundian refugees fleeing political violence arrive in Mboko, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 2015.
Photo courtesy of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees © UNHCR/Federico Scoppa

While we often think about people moving to seek a better life, the World on the Move exhibition also includes many examples of people who were forced to move. This includes cases where people were trafficked or coerced, such as the enslaved Africans whose Yoruba religion was one of the roots of Santeria and the Japanese Americans who were forced into concentration camps by the U.S. government during World War II. In other cases, people are forced to move to escape dangerous situations; they may be refugees, such as Jewish children escaping Nazi-occupied Europe in the 1930s and ‘40s and people fleeing present-day political violence in Central Africa, or if they do not cross international borders, they are considered internally displaced people such as the African Americans of the Great Migration who were fleeing lynching and Jim Crow. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees has more information on refugees, asylum seekers, and internally displaced people.

To dig deeper on these stories, we recommend:

World on the Move also includes an excerpt from the poem “Home” by Warsan Shire; the website Facing History and Ourselves has the complete poem, along with some suggestions for using it in the classroom, but readers should be aware that it includes a racial slur as well as mentions of sexual violence.


Kindertransport: A Journey to Life [2012] – Newsnight

Why African-Americans left the south in droves — and what’s bringing them back


front cover of Farewell to Manzanar

Farewell to Manzanar

Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston

front cover of They Called Us Enemy

They Called Us Enemy

George Takei

front cover of The Warmth of Other Suns

The Warmth of Other Suns

Isabel Wilkerson

front cover of Inside Out and Back Again

Inside Out and Back Again

Thanhha Lai

Other Resources

Podcasts and Playlists

A People in Flight: African Americans in Movement – Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

Websites / Other

Refugees starting over – Kathryn Stam TedxUtica

Documenting History: Photography and Japanese American Incarceration During WWII – Smithsonian Learning Lab Collection created by Japanese American National Museum

Refugees Starting Over Collection – SUNY Polytechnic Institute, collection curated by Kathryn Stam

American Indian Removal: What Does It Mean to Remove a People? – Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian Digital Lesson