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David Ighiwiyisi

Age: 30, from: Edo State, southern Nigeria. David is an ambitious young man with a dream of running his own business. Frustrated with the lack of opportunities at home and impatient to make enough money to support himself, he has decided to leave Nigeria and travel to the UK to be with his brother, who he hasn’t seen in over 10 years. He has saved up some money from odd jobs and sold off their mother’s property to be able to afford the trip.

David and his older brother, Emmanuel, were raised by their mother in Edo until she died suddenly in 2001. The boys were then taken care of by their Aunt Rosa, but she was unwilling to support the family financially. Emmanuel, who was a budding footballer, travelled to the UK ten years ago for trials, with ambitions to play for a 3rd division team. He did not get into a club, overstayed his visa, and has spent the last 10 years living illegally in London.

David sends his brother Emmanuel messages throughout his journey towards the UK.

Sarah Azmeh

Age: 19, from: Idlib, northwestern Syria. Sarah Azmeh has been in living in Izmir in Turkey since April 2015 and is desperate to find her way to Germany, to have a more settled life and continue her studies. Her older brother, Omar, has been living there for the last 3 years and wants his family to join him. Sarah’s parents and younger brother have applied for a family reunification visa, which will allow them to fly directly to Berlin. As Sarah is over 18, she is not able to apply with her family, so she and her cousin Bilal, who is 21, have decided to make the journey with the aid of smugglers.

Sarah left in March 2015, fearing rumours that rebel fighters were planning to take back their former stronghold in the region. Sarah, her parents, her younger brother Adam, her aunt Bahiya and her cousins Samar and Bilal, all paid to be smuggled into Turkey following the closure of the regular border crossings, and have been in Izmir ever since. Though she was doing well in school in Syria, Sarah hasn’t received any education in Izmir. She is determined to get back on track and eventually wants to go to university to study political science or law.

Sarah sends her brother Omar messages throughout her journey from Izmir towards Germany.

Current status

Smuggler's house, Tripoli. Departure time unknown

Launching in:

You may think you know this story. You probably don’t.
This 10-day project uses maps, data, audio and social media to tell a story spread across Europe and beyond.

The first real-time run of migration trail took place from 20-29 Nov 2017. You can now experience the on-demand version here on the site. We’ll be back soon with new stories and another exclusive real-time event. Sign up to our newsletter to keep up to date.

Disclaimer: the characters in the data visualisation are fictional, but based on true stories. Some locations relevant to the story have been concealed in order to protect vulnerable people. The information in this project aims to accurately reflect the journeys of irregular migrants travelling to Europe, but it should not be relied on as a source of guidance for anyone making such a journey.





Fine Acts Foundation, Autodesk, Mapbox, Battersea Arts Centre, THNK



You may think that you already know this story. You don’t.

Migration Trail is the project that uses maps, data and audio to join the dots of a story spread across Europe and beyond.

What is this and how am I meant to experience it?

The maps and data visualisation on this website retrace the journeys of people setting out from the shores of North Africa and Turkey in search of a better life in Europe. The stories are told in real time, over ten days. For ethical reasons, the characters are fictional, although the stories are based on true events. The story progresses in real time, to convey the urgency and immediacy of what is happening. The timeline allows you to move back in time, to see previous events in the story, but it’s not possible to advance more quickly than the characters making the journey.

You can follow the characters’ journeys, their thoughts and responses along the way, via their instant message feeds, which have been written by Elnathan John and Nadia Asfour. You can follow these here on the website, or via your phone in Facebook messenger, to keep up with the story in real time, wherever you are.

To get the messages on your phone, you need to go to our Facebook page. Send a message to the page (the button is at the top right of the page, underneath the banner image) and follow the instructions.

Sign up for our daily email over the course of the ten days of the project and we’ll alert you to key events in the story, the release of new podcast episodes and more infographics about migration that give a deeper insight into the issue.

Join our email list here:

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A new episode of this 11-episode series will be released each evening of the ten day experience.

The podcast is entirely factual. It follows the journeys of a number of individuals as they leave their homes in search of a better, safer life in Europe, as well as interviews with volunteers, NGO workers, local government, border police and the academics and policy makers who can help place these events within a wider context.

You can listen to the podcast here on the site, or via soundcloud, itunes, stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts.

See more infographics and discuss the issues behind the project on our Facebook page.


The concept for this project was developed in 2014. At that point in time, the issue of migration to Europe was becoming more pressing - large numbers of people had made risky journeys through the central Mediterranean that year and known deaths on that route numbered in their thousands. And yet, this story wasn’t getting much attention. There was clearly space for a new approach to telling this story. This is how the real-time storytelling concept developed, as a way to create the urgency and immediacy that the issue demanded, but lacked.

Then suddenly migration was getting a lot of attention, as through 2015 over 1 million people arrived in Greece and Italy irregularly, and a narrative of crisis emerged around this issue. Today the situation is different. With less media coverage, there is also a sense that the issue is over, or at least that there is little left to say. In fact, people continue to make these risky, irregular journeys and many lose their lives along the way. The border, immigration and asylum policies that shape these migration experiences remain in place, and are largely ignored in discussion of the issue, even as they ensure that it will likely continue.

The aim of this project is to create a better informed discussion about migration to Europe. In part this is done by telling the stories of some of the individuals making these journeys, and doing so in tandem with an exploration of bigger questions of border policing, immigration and asylum policy and their development over the past 30-40 years, leading to the situation we see today. In doing so, we want to question the sense of ahistorical ‘crisis’ that has developed around the issue of migration.

We also want to show that it is possible to tell a compelling story using maps and data.

Funded by

The initial concept development and research for this project was funded by a WIRED/the Space Creative Innovation Fellowship; further design development and the first prototype of the data visualisation, instant message feeds and podcast sample was funded by a development grant from the Transmedia Fund of the Creative Industries Fund NL, Netherlands Film Fund and Dutch Media Fund. The production phase has been funded by a production grant from the Transmedia Fund of the Creative Industries Fund NL, Netherlands Film Fund and Dutch Media Fund, and a grant from Arts Council England.

Further support has come from Fine Acts Foundation, Autodesk, Mapbox, Battersea Arts Centre and THNK. A full list of credits and acknowledgements can be found on the credits page.

About the team

A list of the full project team, including biographies of key individuals, can be found on the credits page.

If you have a comment or question about the project and would like to get in touch, please contact us via our Facebook page.

For other enquiries, you can contact the team at:

For press enquiries, please email:

migration trail © Killing Architects 2017. All rights reserved.


Listen to the trailer for the series here:

The podcast is entirely factual. It follows the journeys of a number of individuals as they leave their homes in search of a better, safer life in Europe, as well as interviews with volunteers, NGO workers, local government, border police and the academics and policy makers who can help place these events within a wider context. These episodes should be listened to in order.

You can listen here on the site, or on Soundcloud, iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Day 0 – Leaving

Risky, under-the-radar journeys to Europe are nothing new, but you wouldn’t think that from all the talk of a ‘migration crisis’ in the past couple of years. In 2015 the media was saturated with stories of migration, so you may think you know this story already. But you probably don’t.
This story is deeper and stranger than it initially appears, with roots that extend way back. And it isn't over. Over this series we’re going to be taking a closer look at the factors that shaped the so-called ‘crisis’. We begin by asking why do people leave in the first place? We follow a handful of them – Abdulrahim, Ebrima, Abdurrahman and Fatima – as they set out on one of the most dangerous journeys of their lives.

Day 1 – Passage

The rubber dinghy has become the media's iconic image of migration: unseaworthy, overcrowded, carrying desperate people across dangerous stretches of water. But why are people taking these routes at all? Isn't there an easier way to get to the EU? Legally? Why not just get on a plane? We travel to Turkey and Libya to meet Abdurrahman, Gulfam and Ebrima, who are putting their lives in the hands of smugglers, and look at why this is their only option...

Day 2 – The Sea

The Mediterranean Sea is the world’s most dangerous migration route. The crossing between Turkey and Greece is shorter, but also risky. Once in the boat, migrants like Abdulrahim, Ebrima, Abdurrahman and Gulfam find themselves faced with a range of unexpected hazards: equipment malfunctions, injuries and attacks, not to mention challenging sea conditions. We follow them as they take their chances and embark on the crossing. We also meet the search and rescue teams that patrol the waters to come to their aid.

Day 3 – Land

Even once you’ve arrived in the EU, the trip is far from over. For most people arriving in Greece and Italy in 2015 and early 2016, those countries were not the final destination. To people like Gulfam, Aburrahman and Ebrima, European countries to the north looked like a better bet, but there were still plenty of obstacles to overcome. Though it wasn’t always like this. In this episode we look back to the time before Europe abolished its internal borders to focus on policing the external ones, when very few people had to make risky journeys like these to get to the EU. What changed?

Day 4 – Safety

When questions about who deserves to claim asylum are raised, they’re often heavily qualified. There's a dizzying array of terms: refugees, asylum seekers, migrants, economic migrants... Is there a difference? Aren't they all the same? Gulfam is from a 'safe' country, even though he fled in fear of his life. And Fatima, a professional woman with a career in Ghana’s prison service finds herself the victim of human trafficking. We take a closer look at how we define safety. What does it mean and who decides?

Day 5 – Narrowing Options

Abdurrahman's journey through the Balkans was difficult, but easier than it would be to do now. Through late 2015 and early 2016 first the borders closed, one by one. Then fences started being put up. Eventually, the only option for those arriving in Greece after March of 2016 was to try and get through to an ever-busy Skype account to apply for relocation elsewhere in Europe, which often takes months. Life in limbo exacts a toll. The question is: do fences actually work, or do they just create new routes?

Day 6 – Hanging On

In late summer 2015, Abdurrahman and his family engaged smugglers to take them on the next step of their journey through Hungary. A year later, and Ebrima and Abdulrahim have arrived safely in Italy, but don’t have the same options to travel onwards. They’ve applied for asylum in Italy but find themselves frustrated by the wait, the boredom and a tangle of bureaucracy. People in Greek camps too are disappointed in a Europe that hasn’t come close to meeting their expectations. And for those who've given up on the idea of getting to the EU, like Syrians in Turkey, it's not easy either.

Day 7 – Acceptance

As the countries surrounding Italy and Greece close their borders, people have begun to find themselves stuck in a variety of ‘temporary’ accommodation: squats, hotels, old factories, repurposed airport terminals, and camps. But is that good enough? Host countries, as well as the migrants themselves, have had to accept that people who had intended to simply pass through may be staying longer than planned, with no clear way forward. Meanwhile, we look at one group of people on the move who gets even less support than others: children travelling alone.

Day 8 – Welcome to Calais

There are bottlenecks at many key staging points through Europe, where people’s journeys are paused for a few days, weeks, or even months. And in many of these places – Idomeni, Subotica, Foggia – people begin to create their own informal settlements. They have a reputation for being desperate and chaotic, but their residents and volunteers have also often created something quite human there: community. Calais is just one of such places, a place where nearly 10,000 people co-existed as they tried and retried to cross the English Channel.

Day 9 – Hidden Costs

Tighter borders lead to an increase in irregular migration, which then lead to even more border controls. But what also increases with that are hidden economies. It's said that the income generated from human smuggling is twice as large as that from arms trafficking, drugs trafficking, and sex trafficking combined. Ebrima and Fatima take us into the world of those trapped outside the formal economy: women trafficked to Europe for prostitution, and those working for low wages in agriculture, because that's all the work they can get.

Day 10 – Work–in–progress

Significant numbers of people feel forced to make dangerous journeys to get to Europe, and many lose their lives along the way. This situation that shows little sign of changing, so long as the border, asylum and immigration policies that help create it remain in place. In our final episode we look at some of the partial solutions – some on the table and some not - as well as other options the EU's been pursuing. Plus: what happened to Abdurrahman, Fatima, Ebrima and Gulfam, and why? How far have their dreams been realized?

Frequently Asked Questions

Is this real?

The characters in the data visualisation are fictional, but their experiences are based on true stories. We chose to reconstruct rather than directly reproduce these stories for ethical reasons. The information was collected via research trips travelling the routes that migrants themselves took through Europe, and through first-hand interviews with people making these journeys, supplemented by literature review. The instant messaging feed of the characters were written by a team of writers: author and satirist Elnathan John, screenwriter Nadia Asfour, and journalist Zarghuna Kargar.

The content of the podcast is entirely factual.

What is the aim of this project?

This project has two aims:
Firstly, we would like to see a better informed discussion about irregular migration to Europe.
Secondly, we want to show that it is possible to tell a compelling story using data and maps.

Why did you choose to follow peoples from these particular countries?

Significant numbers of people from Nigeria, Syria and Afghanistan travelled to Europe irregularly (‘irregular migrants’ typically mean those who enter a country without that country’s legal permission to do so.) during the time in which this project was produced, from late 2014 to late 2017. We wanted to show a range of experiences – people with a prima facie case for asylum in Europe and those who would be considered ‘economic migrants’, though as the stories make clear, those categories are far from clear cut.

We also wanted to tell stories which may at first glance seem familiar – certainly many stories of people travelling to Syria have been told in the media over the past couple of years – but where we saw the chance to tell a deeper, and perhaps more surprising version.

Where did you get the data?

A lot of the information for this project was collected via our own primary research and interviews, carried out between August 2015 and July 2017, travelling the length of the routes that that people take on their journeys to and through Europe: Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary, Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, France, the UK, Sweden. We also spent time on on board one of the search and rescue ships, operating in international waters off the Libyan coast.

The base maps for the project come from Open Street Map and Mapbox, with additional drawn layers on the map (SAR zones in the Mediterranean, border walls in Europe etc) drawn by the production team based on publicly available documents on European search and rescue, or NGO studies (UNHCR in this case).

Weather data came from the US government’s NOAA, the EU’s ECMWF, and Weather Underground.

Shipping data came from openAIS, flight data from OpenSky Network.

Statistics came from the UN, NGO research, Eurostat and individual country statistical agencies, as well as data sets pulled together in studies such as the Migrant Files, by Journalism ++.

Sources for individual datasets are listed in the legend of the relevant map.

Is this aimed at people who are trying to undertake these journeys themselves?

No. This is not a ‘how-to’ guide.

Where can I find out more?

For more infographics and to take part in discussions about the project and issues around migration, go to our Facebook page.

If you haven’t seen it already, our podcast series goes into greater depth about how the so-called ‘migration crisis’ came about, the challenges involved in resolving it, and tells the stories of a number of real-life people who have made these irregular journeys to Europe.

At the end of the experience we’ll be sharing a series of further resources on migration.

How do I get in touch?

If you have a comment or question about the project and would like to get in touch, please contact us via our Facebook page.

For other enquiries, you can contact the team at:

For press enquiries, please email:


To get you started

  • Stories

    Follow the reconstructed journeys of two characters and map their routes across Europe.

  • 16


    Click on the messages marked along the route to read the character’s message feed.

  • Language

    Data layers

    Explore different layers of data – political, environment and personal – that relate to the characters and their journeys.

  • DAY 2   14:00DAY 2DAY 3


    This experience plays out in real time. Use the timeline to catch up on things you may have missed.

  • Podcast

    Follow our daily podcast to delve deeper into real life stories and explore the wider issues.

  • On your phone

    Sign up on our Facebook page to get the characters’ messages direct to your phone, for the full ten days of the experience.

  • Stay informed

    Sign up to our newsletter to keep up to date with the latest podcast episodes.

  • More questions?

    Take a look in our FAQ or drop us a line on our Facebook page.



Creative director Alison Killing
Producer Josie Gardiner, Alison Killing, Michelle Feuerlicht
First Prototype Mike Robbins
UX & Web design Thomas Lievestro
Technical realisation Thomas Lievestro
Audio editor Anik See
Assistant producer Sarah Saey
Graphic designer Asja Keeman
Sound design and music Bora Yoon
Fixing and translation Omar Shamil Mohammed, Nayief Salameh
Impact producer Michelle Chakkalackal
Data analyst Luke Gilder

Writers Elnathan John, Nadia Asfour, Zarghuna Kargar

Podcast narration Marnie Chesterton
Additional fact-checking Nayief Salameh, Benjamin Thomas White

With thanks to Abdurrahman Doel, Abdulrahim Salifu, Ebrima, Fatima Issah and Gulfam Hassan

Thanks also to Alex Wittholz, Heather Grieve, Brooklyn Brownstone, Ashleigh Elson, Alia Yunis, Lula Saleh, Marie Garrett

Funded by
Creative Industries Fund NL
Netherlands Film Fund
Dutch Media Fund
Arts Council England
WIRED/the Space Creative Innovation Fellowship

With support from
Fine Acts Foundation
Battersea Arts Centre

Afshin Deskordi; Agavni Jessaijan; Anastasia Taylor-Lind; Andrew Killen; Andrew Kitching; Ann Singleton; Anne Sallaerts; Annette Mees; Anya Ayoung Chee; Arnold van Bruggen; Auke Ferwada; Ben Kellogg; Benedetta Berti; Berend-Jan Hilberts; Bibi Bakare-Yusuf; Caitlin Ryan; Carmen Dupont; Chris James; Chris Moran; Clare Sutton; Coen Bergman; Colleen Keegan; Constance Hockaday; Daryl Mulvihill; Debo Amon; Ellis Bartholomew; Emma Eggink; Ernestien Idenburg; Grainne Hassett; Hez Holland; Ines Gall; Iro Suri Kourmpasi; Joe Lewis; John Monks; Jon Davis; Jonathan May; Jonathon O'Leary; Julie Freeman; Kim Plowright; Laura Kriefman; Lauren King; Lizzie Mandeno; Lorenzo Pezzani; Borderline Sicilia, Lucia Borgia; Maddie Wilson; Mandy Rose; Mark Ball; Meklit Herero; Michelle Ernsting; Mihail Mitev; Momir Turudic; Naomi Alderman; Nassim Assefi; Nikesh Shukla; Nikhil Pahwa; Oona Eager; Pavel Kounchev; Peter Mandeno; Peter Haas; Raphael Cormack; Robert Wolfe; Rudayna Abdo; Saeed Farouky; Sara Kolster; Satyabrata Dam; Taghi Amirani; The TED Fellows team; Tomas Thoren; Wendy Levy; Yana Buhrer Tavanier; the crew of Sea-watch mission 5, 2016: Jon Castel, Ingo Werth, Jurgen Prey, Lisa Mueller, Julius Ruppert, Anabel Kipp, Welf Seyer, Bea Schmidt, Allison Merrill, Matthias Vetter, Sebastian, Thomas Lenzen, Fabian Melber; Ruben Neugebauer


Last year, 48,885 Nigerians applied for asylum in Europe.
1,835 of those applications were made in the UK, of which only 29% were successful.

The UK considers Nigeria a ‘safe’ country, at least for men. This means that an application from a Nigerian like David would be expedited, reducing the time he would have to wait for an answer. While this might reduce some of the stress and sense of helpless that come with that wait, the answer is likely to be negative. That is to assume that David would manage to get to the UK in the first place.

Since the camp at Calais was demolished in October 2016, people have continued to arrive in the town, hoping for a chance to hide on a truck or train that could take them to the UK. With the camp gone, there are far fewer services to support people there and many sleep rough in the woods or fields surrounding the town. There are continuing reports of violence towards irregular migrants in Calais, as well as regular harassment, including bedding and tents being destroyed, shoes and warm clothing stolen.

This story isn’t over.


Sarah’s story isn’t that common.

Unlike the majority of Syrians wishing to travel to Europe, Sarah and Bilal had the enormous advantage of their family’s wealth on their side, enabling them to pay smugglers to get them off the Greek islands and then to fly to Germany.

The alternative, a journey on foot through the Balkans, is not only less comfortable trip but also much riskier. The land borders are difficult to cross, with many people spending months trying before perhaps giving up completely, and their are regular reports of violence from border police.

In 2017 to date, 34,840 Syrians have applied for asylum in Germany (compared with a total of 76,620 across Europe). Decisions on asylum claims by Syrians over the past year have been mostly positive: 92% have been accepted, so Sarah stands a good chance of being able to build the life she hopes for in Germany.

People continue to arrive on the Greek islands - 27,245 between January and October 2017 - but unlike Sarah, the vast majority get stuck there, their asylum claim (and possible deportation) pending.

This story isn’t over.

Learn more:
To find out more about these stories and their context, listen to our podcast series here.

This New York Times interactive looks at how life has been for the 900 refugees who arrived in Weimar in 2015-16 since their arrival

Spread the word
The aim of migration trail is to create a more informed discussion around the topic of migraiton to the EU.
Please share the project on Twitter and Facebook to spread the word