The Year in Review
Our Top Visual Stories of 2020
From Afghanistan to Mexico, and from Belarus to Cambodia, here’s the best photojournalism from a year that felt like a decade.
Foreign Policy contributors brought to life the year’s most pressing stories through a powerful blend of original photography and reporting.
From unraveling the significance of spiritual scarecrows in Cambodia to describing the plight of under-resourced midwives in Afghanistan, look back at 2020 through the lens of our best visual stories.
by Umar Farooq, photos by Oscar Durand, Jan. 24
At the start of the year, reporter Umar Farooq and photographer Oscar Durand portrayed the predicament of Afghan refugees left stranded in Turkey. The Trump administration’s expanded vetting of immigrants and its cap of 18,000 asylum visas made their hopes of building a new life in the United States nearly inconceivable. Farooq writes: “Neither the bloodletting in Afghanistan nor the droves of refugees showing up on Western doorsteps have prompted sympathy from the world’s wealthiest nations. Afghanistan is a conflict the West would rather forget.”
Toward the end of this year, tragedy struck for refugees once again. Moria, Europe’s largest refugee camp, was destroyed after a fire. Writer Andrew Connelly and photographer Nicola Zolin reported from Lesbos, Greece, on how the event highlights a dire need for Europe to rethink its migration policy so that it lifts the burden off of Mediterranean nations.
by Jenny Pacini, photos by Stefano Schirato, May 16
In the early stages of coronavirus lockdowns, global attention focused on Italy as the country experienced some of the steepest rises in coronavirus cases worldwide. In May, Jenny Pacini and photographer Stefano Schirato reported from intensive care units across the country to intimately describe how some coronavirus patients were beginning an important next phase to their recovery: a return home.
by Maya Averbuch, photos by Luis Antonio Rojas, June 1
Mexican culture pays special care and attention to the dead. But due to lockdown measures, none of the age-old traditions to mourn those who have departed are possible now. In June, Maya Averbuch and photographer Luis Antonio Rojas reported from Mexico City on how families are bending tradition to help stop the spread of the coronavirus—but many still doubt the lockdown protocols will protect them.
Later this year, reporter Lorena Ríos and photographer Armando Vega told the stories of Mexican workers in the United States who have so far sent record remittances home in 2020. The coronavirus pandemic has exposed the hidden cost of migration for families that rely on relatives in the United States to put a roof over their head. As COVID-19 cases surge again, families in Mexico face the question of whether migration is worth it.
by Jade Sacker, June 12
While Cambodia has among the lowest number of coronavirus cases in Southeast Asia, there have been uncorroborated reports of rampant coronavirus-related deaths in the countryside, prompting many to turn to old spiritual protectors, or ting mong, for help. Jade Sacker reported from several homes in the Takeo, Kandal, and Kampong Speu provinces to show why these scarecrows are so important.
by Gareth Browne, photos by Jonny Pickup, Aug. 17
After 26 years in power, Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko guaranteed himself a questionable victory in the country’s presidential election in August. What followed were mass protests, thousands of arrests, and a call for the return of opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya. Writer Gareth Browne and photographer Jonny Pickup reported from Minsk on Tikhanovskaya’s rise to prominence.
In September, another key opposition leader, Maria Kolesnikova, was detained in Minsk. Browne and Pickup teamed up once again to depict how Kolesnikova’s disappearance seemed to have robbed the anti-government protest movement of its momentum.
by Lynzy Billing, July 6
Many of our visual stories this year were too impactful to ignore. Such is the case for Lynzy Billing’s deep dive into the lives of midwives in Afghanistan. This particular community of front-line medical workers has stepped in to become one of the most vital forces in the country’s overstretched health care system, especially as coronavirus cases mount and regional violence escalates.