Refugee Minifigure Poster Project

a collaboration with illustrator Paul Lee


UNHCR/LEGO Refugee Ads


“Spot the Refugee” was first run in Newsweek in 1995 as an advertisement produced by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in collaboration with LEGO.

In 1998, “Spot the Refugee” was reissued with “What’s the Difference, How Does It Feel, & What’s Wrong Here” to make a set of 4 UNHCR advertisements to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The posters were also released with a teachers’ guide, which can be found here.


LEGO Refugee Poster Reboot


One of the most significant global issues of our time is the refugee crisis. War, drought, poverty, violence, religious intolerance, and human-caused global warming have accelerated these large-scale migrations and millions of people have become desperate enough to leave their homes in hopes of a better future.

I’ve been thinking about what I could do to bring awareness to this issue, and how best to recognize their plight and the value of them as people, no matter when or where or why they leave home. The rise in xenophobia and hate crimes in the US has made this an urgent issue that I felt compelled to respond to.

As an educator, I think about the best ways to teach people about the refugee crisis in a meaningful, effective way. I remembered a poster I had on my classroom wall that combined minifigures and a statement about refugees and started to think about how this might be an interesting way to approach educating people about the refugee crisis. Seeing the poster again was what sparked me to want to create an updated version with minifigures representing actual refugees, their stories, and their contributions to society. In my research, I also came across people who may not have been refugees themselves but are advocates who actively support refugees in resettlement and starting new lives.

Designing minifigures to represent these extraordinary people makes it possible for us to see them in a unique way that is approachable to everyone. LEGO has a language all its own that draws people to it, no matter the format or the subject, and it is my hope that creating minifigures of these inspiring people will draw people to their extraordinary refugee stories.


Hassan Al Kontar is a Syrian refugee who lived in the Kuala Lumpur Airport in Malaysia for 8 months. He lived in exile of Syria since the beginning of the Syrian Civil War in 2011, first in the United Arab Emirates, then deported to Malaysia. He was finally resettled in Canada in late 2018.

Hassan Al Kontar is a Syrian refugee who lived in the Kuala Lumpur Airport in Malaysia for 8 months. He lived in exile of Syria since the beginning of the Syrian Civil War in 2011, first in the United Arab Emirates, then deported to Malaysia. He was finally resettled in Canada in late 2018.

Albert Einstein was a very accomplished German physicist. He settled in the U.S. in 1933 after Hitler's rise to power. Einstein received the 1921 Nobel Peace Prize in Physics and advocated against the development of nuclear weapons.

Albert Einstein was a very accomplished German physicist. He settled in the U.S. in 1933 after Hitler's rise to power. Einstein received the 1921 Nobel Peace Prize in Physics and advocated against the development of nuclear weapons.

Madeline Abright was the first woman to be the U.S. Secretary of State. Her family fled Czechoslovakia in 1939 due to the Nazi occupation and again in 1948 due to the communist revolution. Her family settled in the United States, where Albright earned a Ph.D. and began a political career.

Madeline Abright was the first woman to be the U.S. Secretary of State. Her family fled Czechoslovakia in 1939 due to the Nazi occupation and again in 1948 due to the communist revolution. Her family settled in the United States, where Albright earned a Ph.D. and began a political career.

Thi Bui wrote and illustrated  The Best We Could Do  (2018), a graphic memoir recounting the story of her family. Bui's family fled Vietnam when she was a young child, during the Vietnam War, and resettled in America.

Thi Bui wrote and illustrated The Best We Could Do (2018), a graphic memoir recounting the story of her family. Bui's family fled Vietnam when she was a young child, during the Vietnam War, and resettled in America.

On March 6, 2013, a 19 year-old mother of two named Bushra was registered with the UNHCR and declared the one millionth registered refugee from the Syrian Civil War. Although her story was used as important symbol of the refugee crisis, the world has lost track of Bushra.

On March 6, 2013, a 19 year-old mother of two named Bushra was registered with the UNHCR and declared the one millionth registered refugee from the Syrian Civil War. Although her story was used as important symbol of the refugee crisis, the world has lost track of Bushra.

Tuenjai Deetes has spent her life working with stateless hill tribe communities in northern Thailand. She helps people gain Thai nationality, which gives them rights and security that stateless people have no access to.

Tuenjai Deetes has spent her life working with stateless hill tribe communities in northern Thailand. She helps people gain Thai nationality, which gives them rights and security that stateless people have no access to.

Mahnaz Afkhami was Iran's Minister of Women's Affairs from 1975-1978, but was forced to flee due to the 1979 Islamic Revolution. She has spent her whole life, in and out of exile, advocating for women's rights.

Mahnaz Afkhami was Iran's Minister of Women's Affairs from 1975-1978, but was forced to flee due to the 1979 Islamic Revolution. She has spent her whole life, in and out of exile, advocating for women's rights.

Gloria Estefan is a very popular Cuban-American musical artist. Her family fled from Cuba to Miami, Floria in 1959 due to the Cuban Revolution. Estefan has won 3 Grammy awards and an Ellis Island Congressional Medal of Honor.

Gloria Estefan is a very popular Cuban-American musical artist. Her family fled from Cuba to Miami, Floria in 1959 due to the Cuban Revolution. Estefan has won 3 Grammy awards and an Ellis Island Congressional Medal of Honor.

Jim Estill is the CEO of Danby Appliances, who has sponsored the resettlement of more than 200 Syrians into Canada. Resettled refugees have the opportunity to work for Danby, hopefully gaining financial independence and learning to speak English.

Jim Estill is the CEO of Danby Appliances, who has sponsored the resettlement of more than 200 Syrians into Canada. Resettled refugees have the opportunity to work for Danby, hopefully gaining financial independence and learning to speak English.

Anne Frank was a young Jewish girl in Amsterdam during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. She famously wrote a diary documenting her life in hiding from 1942-1944. Anne and her sisters died in 1945 at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, likely of typhus.

Anne Frank was a young Jewish girl in Amsterdam during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. She famously wrote a diary documenting her life in hiding from 1942-1944. Anne and her sisters died in 1945 at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, likely of typhus.

Hedy Lamarr was a prominent Austrian actress who fled rising fascism and a controlling husband to London in 1937. She settled in American to pursue acting. During World War 2, she and George Antheil developed the technology that forms the basis for WiFi, Bluetooth, and GPS.

Hedy Lamarr was a prominent Austrian actress who fled rising fascism and a controlling husband to London in 1937. She settled in American to pursue acting. During World War 2, she and George Antheil developed the technology that forms the basis for WiFi, Bluetooth, and GPS.

Yusra Mardini fled the Syrian Civil War with her sister in 2015. When the boat smuggling them to Greece with 20 other people began to sink, she and three others swam for 3 hours, pushing and pulling the boat to safety. She competed on the Refugee Olympic Athletes Team in the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Yusra Mardini fled the Syrian Civil War with her sister in 2015. When the boat smuggling them to Greece with 20 other people began to sink, she and three others swam for 3 hours, pushing and pulling the boat to safety. She competed on the Refugee Olympic Athletes Team in the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Rigoberta Menchú Tum is a K'iche' Maya woman from Guatemala. Rigoberta spoke out against mass atrocities committed by the Guatemalan government during the civil war from 1960 to 1996, but she was forced into exile in 1980. Due to her persistent advocacy and her memoir  I, Rigoberta Menchú , she was awarded the 1992 Nobel Peace Prize.

Rigoberta Menchú Tum is a K'iche' Maya woman from Guatemala. Rigoberta spoke out against mass atrocities committed by the Guatemalan government during the civil war from 1960 to 1996, but she was forced into exile in 1980. Due to her persistent advocacy and her memoir I, Rigoberta Menchú, she was awarded the 1992 Nobel Peace Prize.

Loung Ung surived the Killing Fields during the Cambodian genocide, escaping for the U.S. in 1979-80. Ung has written several memoirs about her experience, such as First They Killed My Father, which was made into a movie by Ung and Angelina Jolie.

Loung Ung surived the Killing Fields during the Cambodian genocide, escaping for the U.S. in 1979-80. Ung has written several memoirs about her experience, such as First They Killed My Father, which was made into a movie by Ung and Angelina Jolie.

Regina Spektor is a prominent Russian-born singer and pianist. Her family left the Soviet Union in 1989 due to anti-semitic prejudice and politics, settling in New York City. She has been active with music since 2001 and continues to advocate for immigrants and Jewish people.

Regina Spektor is a prominent Russian-born singer and pianist. Her family left the Soviet Union in 1989 due to anti-semitic prejudice and politics, settling in New York City. She has been active with music since 2001 and continues to advocate for immigrants and Jewish people.

Clementine Wamariya is the author of the memoir The Girl Who Smiled Beads. It details her escape from the Rwandan genocide and the following six years in refugee camps before being granted asylum in the United States in 2000. She was reunited with her parents and siblings on Oprah in 2006.

Clementine Wamariya is the author of the memoir The Girl Who Smiled Beads. It details her escape from the Rwandan genocide and the following six years in refugee camps before being granted asylum in the United States in 2000. She was reunited with her parents and siblings on Oprah in 2006.