Refugee flows to the EU

Refugee flows to the EU

Organisation: Sveriges Television AB (Sweden)

Publication Date: 01/11/2016


This data visualization depicts the number of refugees, per country, that were residing in the European Union at the time. When the user clicks on a country of origin (the left column), the European countries are sorted in descending order and the lines drawn between countries vary in size depending on the number of refugees received. The visualization was part of a broader effort on Sveriges Television's part to portray the current refugee crisis in the world. While other teams reported the issue with traditional means, me and two colleagues brainstormed on how we could put the raw numbers in perspective. After coming up with the idea of visualizing refugee flows, the data collection and coding part took about two working days to finish. Our goal was to highlight the discrepancy in refugee receiving between European countries, and also provide our readers with a thought engaging and interesting tool to further explore the numbers. As a non profit public service company, we always strive to make our work as accessible and broadly understandable as possible. Hence, we had no particular audience in mind for this particular piece. Rather, we hoped that it would intrigue anyone visiting our site. As it turned out, a lot of people seemed to appreciate it. After posting a link on Reddit (under the subreddit DataIsBeautiful) we got hundres of thousands of visits during from all around the world during just a few days.

What makes this project innovative? What was its impact?

Even though the data visualization is intentionally simple for the end-user, we think it's quite innovative nonetheless. This type of diagram is unique to our knowledge. The closest resemblance is probably with the Sankey diagram type, but the sortable rows, animated lines and mobile friendly layout is probably what makes this visualization attractive to a broad audience. Additionally, the type of presentation we chose differed radically from the approaches of other media organizations. A common approach in the interactive news reporting on the refugee crisis was to try to display volumes and directions in a map. While sometimes beautiful and engaging, we found that particular method a bit distracting with arrows all over the place and large countries disproportionally salient. We opted for a clean, close-to-the-data graphic with as few distracting elements as possible.

Technologies used for this project:

We used Excel for cleaning and organizing the original UNHCR data. The visualization was created using the JavaScript library D3.js, and a custom JavaScript "router" which keeps application state in the hash part of the URL, thereby enabling readers to share a specific view of the data. We used a simple Python script to transform the data from the CSV format to JSON.
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