The Uprooted

View Live Map →

Why We Love It

Since 2011, the world’s refugee population has increased by 45%. This story map examines the causes of forcible displacement and how it affects millions of people across geographies. We love how this map treats an inherently sobering topic with clarity and composure. The Uprooted tells a deeply human story, on global and local scales, in a way that is informative and evocative. Yet, it does not resort to bombastic or sensationalistic language and graphics.

Why It Works

The linear, scroll-driven layout of this story map works to deconstruct a highly complex issue into manageable chapters. We are drawn into a richly immersive experience by a combination of maps, photos, videos, charts, and text. A consistent color palette brings all of the visual elements into harmony. The judicious use of bright colors evokes a sense of solemnity and gravity—emotions that are central to this narrative. Learn more about the cartography used in 'The Uprooted'.

Important Steps

Data about refugees and internally displaced persons (IDP) is difficult to collect and verify. It’s often preferable to aggregate data to the country level.

Flow maps, generated using the XY To Line tool, are a natural choice for showing migration since the lines encode direction and magnitude for many places simultaneously. 

The right basemap is critical since it sets the tone of the map. The muted palette sets an appropriately somber feel. Hillshading, borders, and water show the physical barriers refugees must contend with in their migrations. The basemap was published as a hosted tile layer to improve performance.

Sometimes, static maps are more effective than interactive maps. In 'The Uprooted', the team alternated between static and interactive maps.

The team wanted to conclude the story with a call to action, so it collaborated with Esri’s non-profit team to compile a list of organizations with links to “donate” pages.

A lot of time was spent in refining cartography and user experience. The story did double duty as a prototype of an upcoming “Cascade” storytelling app, so the team wanted to experiment with advanced techniques.



The data behind this story comes from three key sources. Refugee and IDP statistics come from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). High-resolution satellite imagery of the Zaatari refugee camp was provided by Airbus Defense and Space. European migration routes were gleaned from the International Organization for Migration.


The team pored through the sequential challenges that migrants face while travelling to and through Europe. These were rendered as a sinuous flow map atop an interactive 3D scene with descriptive annotations for each obstacle.

The static maps used elsewhere in the story illustrate the origin/destination nature of refugees in both diaspora maps and proportional symbol maps. These were rendered in ArcGIS Desktop.

ArcGIS Desktop was used to analyze satellite imagery captured at different dates, detecting human-made surfaces for an estimate of refugee camp growth over time.


The Uprooted was the combined effort of a team of storytellers, specializing in data capture and analysis, visual media, written narrative, cartographic illustration, and web development. Overall the team invested several weeks in crafting the finished story.

Build in Details


Rather than present everything at once, build in details as the reader moves forward, such as bar charts that grow as the story advances.

Hollow Proportional Symbols


Hollow proportional symbols allow us to see smaller symbols that might otherwise be covered.

Oblique 3D


Oblique 3D views centered on key locations help to focus attention to parts of the story.

More Information

Map Author

Story Maps

The Story Maps Team

@EsriStoryMaps | Homepage

The Story Maps team at Esri makes tools that enable you to tell digital stories harnessing the power of geography, maps & GIS. And we use the tools too!

Start making maps with a free trial of ArcGIS.

Try ArcGIS →