Mapping Syrian Refugee Border Crossings

a critical, feminist analysis

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) calls the ongoing Syrian conflict “the biggest humanitarian emergency of our era.” Since 2011, violence has led to nearly 220,000 lives lost, 6.5 million Syrians have been internally displaced, and over 4 million have fled across borders. While the written and photographic reporting of Syrian stories uses captivating imagery and testimonials to convey the traumatic experiences of individuals, the expression of these experiences in the accompanying cartographic coverage is limited.

I ask the following research question: How can the cartographic portrayal of Syrian peoples’ border crossings be improved to better represent their experiences? I interviewed seven humanitarian workers, activists, and displaced Syrians and through a critical feminist lens, I developed an alternative mapping solution that more accurately reflects Syrian border (traditional and non-traditional) crossings.

My Techniques


This technique paces the viewer through the story and emphasizes the individual border displayed on each page.

Border Symbolization

The border is the focus of each page and map layout. I developed bivariate line symbolization based on individual experience and the border’s porosity as described by the interviewee (see below). For the aggregated map, I used the median symbolization for all interviewees that mentioned a specific border.

Experiential labeling

I labeled each border with a passage taken from our interview to encapsulate the individual’s experience or perspective in one eyespan.


I focused on voice by separating my voice (serif typeface) as the cartographer from the voice of the interviewee (sans serif typeface). This kept the individuals voice on the page, while minimizing my outsider perspective.

Map Keys