Taken at night, the man and his child were part of the movement of people desperate to cross into Hungary before the metal fence was completed by security forces.
It is one of 141 thought- rovoking images which make up the World Press Photo exhibition, the globally renowned international contest for photo journalists, which can be seen at Holyrood.
Judges for the awards said the photo, taken in August 2015 by Australian photographer Warren Richardson near Horgos in Serbia, was “powerful” and “classic”.
Jury chair Francis Kohn, photo director of Agence France-Presse, said: “Early on we looked at this photo and we knew it was an important one. It had such power because of its simplicity, especially the symbolism of the barbed wire.
“It had almost everything in there to give a strong visual of what’s happening with the refugees. I think it’s a very classical photo, and at the same time it’s timeless. It portrays a situation, but the way it’s done is classic in the greatest sense of the word.”
Vaughn Wallace, deputy photo editor at Al Jazeera America, said: “It’s incredibly powerful visually, but it’s also very nuanced. We’ve seen thousands of images of migrants in every form of their journey, but this image really caught my eye.
“It causes you to stop and consider the man’s face, consider the child. You see the sharpness of the barbed wire and the hands reaching out from the darkness. This isn’t the end of a journey, but the completion of one stage of a very long future.
“For me, this had to be the photo of the year.”
The migrant crisis features heavily in this year’s exhibition, along with striking images of nature, culture and sport.
A number of the shortlisted entries this year featured the refugee crisis, with many submissions showing people reaching southern European shores.
Another striking image shows enormous crowds of refugees in Greece.
Other poignant images depict scenes from the Paris attacks in January, the devastating earthquake in Nepal and clashes in the US set off by police shootings.
More light-hearted images include gris-gris wrestlers in Senegal and a young orangutan screaming in Sumatra.
Babette Warendorf, World Press Photo’s Project Manager of exhibitions, said: “The exhibition puts a spotlight on notable moments from the past year’s news agenda, as well as those less reported.
“The work of some of the world’s best photojournalists will be moving to many, but also inspiring.
“Stories of refugees and the recurring theme of man versus nature open up conversations about global issues that continue to engage and provoke.”
The annual contest, which is judged in the Netherlands, draws entries from professional press photographers, photojournalists and documentary photographers from across the world. This year, 5,775 photographers from 128 countries participated – with 82,951 pictures submitted.
Winning photographer Warren Richardson will be at the opening of the free show at Holyrood, the only Scottish venue to host it, until 23 July.