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January 08, 2024

Photo of the Year: Top refugee photos from 2023

Each year, we have the privilege of sharing the extraordinary stories and photos of refugees from around the world. Whether captured by UNHCR photographers overseas or taken locally by USA for UNHCR staff, these images convey powerful messages of strength, hope and joy, and help us recognize our shared humanity.

Heading into the new year, we asked our supporters to vote for their favorite refugee photo from last year. Here are the top six photos of 2023 and the amazing stories behind them.

2023 Photo of the Year

Photo credit: © UNHCR/Oxygen Empire Media Production

Our Photo of the Year features two sweet little girls in Afghanistan. They are part of a community of former Afghan refugees, now referred to as returnees, who fled from Afghanistan years prior and recently returned to their home country to rebuild their lives in safety. Since many communities like theirs were destroyed by conflict, they will first need to rebuild their neighborhood before their lives can return to normal.

UNHCR supports their community in various ways — including the construction of schools, water infrastructure and roadways, the provision of shelter and healthcare services and opportunities for livelihood activities such as cash-for-work projects. These projects offer employment opportunities to vulnerable individuals in need of income, allowing them to contribute to their community’s development while also providing crucial financial support for their families.

Runners Up

Photo credit: © UNHCR/Andrew McConnell

Five-year-old Acel stands next to her family's shelter in the fields outside the UNHCR transit center in Renk, South Sudan. When conflict broke out in Sudan, Acel's mother, Achan, decided to flee with her six children. They spent five days traveling on trucks to reach the border of South Sudan, where they hope to find a safe place to live.

Photo Credit: © USA for UNHCR/Nicholas Feeney

Methusella Rwambose bounces a ball on his head at a soccer field at the University of Denver. Now a graduate of the University of Denver, Methusella came to the United States as  a teenager after fleeing from violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He quickly found a welcoming community and made a home in Denver, going on to attend college, becoming president of his school’s club soccer team and starting a nonprofit organization to help marginalized people in the Denver area.

Photo Credit: © USA for UNHCR/Nicholas Feeney

Actress Kat Graham and former student Khaty form a connection while talking about the incredible Global Village Project. Kat visited the school earlier this year to learn about the work they are doing to help refugee girls in the Atlanta area. The school uses a trauma-informed teaching approach to create a safe and welcoming environment for middle school girls. Global Village Project has created a space where girls, like Khaty, from all different backgrounds can feel comfortable and come together as sisters.

Photo Credit: © UNHCR/Caroline Gluck

Bibi Niaz has been weaving carpets in Afghanistan since she was ten years old. She comes from a whole family of carpet weavers. Now seventy one years old, Bibi has fourteen grandchildren and says that the income she makes from weaving helps her take care of her family. “I was born with carpets and I will die with carpets! I won’t take a carpet to my grave, but I will make a carpet as a memory for my family to hang on the wall and remember me.” she shares.

Photo Credit: © UNHCR/Catalina Betancur Sánchez

María Victoria is a proud LGBTIQ+ advocate and transgender woman. Growing up among gangs and violence in Chocó, Colombia, María witnessed many people being forced to flee their homes and struggling with their mental health. From the age of 15, María began providing community-based psychological first aid to vulnerable adolescents — including many young LGBTIQ+ individuals like herself. Having grown up in a strict family, unable to be who she was, María understood their struggles. With the help of counseling, she found the courage to come out as a transgender woman to her family and is now providing that same support for others.


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