August 10, 2022

Ten Powerful Books and Movies About the Refugee Crisis

The UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) defines a refugee as someone who has been forced to flee their country because of persecution, war, or violence. They also report that there are nearly 26 million refugees around the world currently.  

To understand more about the refugee crises and what it is like to be a refugee, we put together a list of the ten most powerful books and movies regarding the refugee experience. We find that hearing the stories of people with different backgrounds is vital for anyone wishing to better understand their fellow humans.  


1. We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled by Wendy Pearlman  

An astonishing collection of intimate wartime testimonies and poetic fragments from a cross-section of Syrians whose lives have been transformed by revolution, war, and flight. Based on interviews with hundreds of displaced Syrians conducted over four years across the Middle East and Europe, We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled is a breathtaking mosaic of first-hand testimonials from the frontlines. Some of the testimonies are several pages long, eloquent narratives that could stand alone as short stories; others are only a few sentences, poetic and aphoristic. Together, they cohere into an unforgettable chronicle that is not only a testament to the power of storytelling but to the strength of those who face darkness with hope, courage, and moral conviction.

2. A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park  

A Long Walk to Water begins as two stories, told in alternating sections, about two eleven-year-olds in Sudan, a girl in 2008 and a boy in 1985. The girl, Nya, is fetching water from a pond that is two hours’ walk from her home: she makes two trips to the pond every day. The boy, Salva, becomes one of the “lost boys” of Sudan, refugees who cover the African continent on foot as they search for their families and for a safe place to stay. Enduring every hardship from loneliness to attack by armed rebels to contact with killer lions and crocodiles, Salva is a survivor, and his story goes on to intersect with Nya’s in an astonishing and moving way. 

3. A Land of Permanent Goodbyes by Atia Abawi  

In a country ripped apart by war, Tareq lives with his big and loving family...until the bombs strike. His city is in ruins, and those who have survived are left to figure out their uncertain future. Tareq’s family knows that to continue to stay alive, they must leave. As they travel as refugees from Syria to Turkey to Greece, facing danger at every turn, Tareq must find the resilience and courage to complete his harrowing journey. But while this is one family’s story it is also the timeless tale of all wars, of all tragedy, and of all strife. When you are a refugee, success means outliving your loss. 

4. Nowhere Boy by Katherine Marsh  

Fourteen-year-old Ahmed is stuck in a city that wants nothing to do with him. Newly Arrived in Brussels, Belgium, Ahmed fled a life of uncertainty and suffering in Aleppo, Syria, only to lose his father on the perilous journey to the shores of Europe. Not Ahmed’s struggling to get by on his own, but with no one left to trust and nowhere to go, he’s starting to lose hope. Then he meets Max, a thirty-year-old American boy from Washington, D.C. Lonely and homesick, Max is struggling at his new school and just can’t seem to do anything right. But with one startling discovery, Max and Ahmed’s lives collide and a friendship begins to grow. Together, Max and Ahmed will defy the odds, learning from each other what it means to be brace and how hope can change your destiny.  

5. We Are Displaced by Malala Yousafzai  

Author Malala Yousafzai introduces some of the people behind the statistics and news stories that we read or hear every day about the millions of people displaced worldwide. In We Are Displaced, part memoir, part communal storytelling, Malala not only explores her own story, but she also shares the personal stories of some of the incredible girls and women she has met who have lost their community, relatives, and often the only world they’ve ever known. In a time of immigration crises, war, and border conflicts, We Are Displaced is an important reminder from one of the world’s most prominent young activists that every single one of the 68.5 million currently displaced is a person – often a young person – with hopes and dreams.  


1. Simple As Water (2021)  

From a port in Greece, to an orphanage in Turkey, to Germany and the United States, Simple As Water provides intimate vignettes into the lives of four Syrian families that have been displaced and separated by over a decade of conflict. Like other desperate families, Yasmin and her children escaped the civil war in Syria by boat. Although she made it to Greece, she lost her youngest son during the treacherous sea crossing and remains separated from her husband. Samra, a single mother living in Turkey struggles to make a living and considers the difficult decision of placing her children in an orphanage to give them a better life. In the U.S., Omar takes a low-paying delivery job to provide for his younger brother who is traumatized by the past. The documentary highlights the sacrifices and risks refugees take to survive and the deep emotional bonds of family that keep their hope alive despite all obstacles.  

Available on Hulu and HBOMax.  

2. Encanto (2021)  

Encanto tells the tale of an extraordinary family, the Madrigals, who live hidden in the mountains of Colombia, in a magical house and vibrant town. Long ago, the matriarch of the family, Abuela Alma, was forcefully displaced from her home and lost her husband Pedro while feeling. From this tragedy came a miracle, a magical candle that created a home for Abuela to live in and bestows magical gifts upon her children and grandchildren. The magic of Encanto has blessed every child in the family with a unique gift except one, Mirabel. But when she discovers that the magic surrounding Encanto is in danger, Mirabel decides that she, the only ordinary Madrigal, might just be her exceptional family’s last hope.  

Available on Disney+.

3. Captains of Za’atari (2021)  

Two best friends trapped in the Za’atari Refugee Camp in Jordan, the largest Syrian refugee camp in the world, have an undying dream of becoming professional football players. When a world-renowned sports academy visits the camp they might just have a chance to make this dream come true.  

Available on Hulu. 

4. The Good Lie (2014)  

They were known simply as "The Lost Boys." Orphaned by the brutal civil war in Sudan, these young Sudanese refugees traveled as many as a thousand miles on foot in search of safety. Fifteen years later, a humanitarian effort would bring them to America. The Good Lie brings the story of their survival and triumph to life. Thirteen years after surviving an attack on their village and difficult trek to Kenya, the now young adults are given the opportunity to leave the refugee camp and resettle in America. Upon arriving in Kansas, they are met by Carrie Davis, an employment agency counselor enlisted to help find them jobs. 

Available to rent on Amazon Prime and Vudu.  

5. Three Songs for Benazir  

First and foremost a story about love, Three Songs for Benazir opens with Shaista, a forcibly displaced Afghan, singing love songs in Pashto to his wife Benazir. This short documentary celebrates the bond of a young couple attempting to make a life together in a camp for internally displaced Afghans in Kabul.  

Available on Netflix.  

To learn more about what you can do to empower the refugee community here in Utah, check out CCS' Refugee Foster Care and Refugee Resettlement programs.