Immersive Storytelling of Rohingya Refugee Experience



The displacement of refugees from their natural homes have caused violence and estrangement all over the world, as victims, perpetrators, and hosts jostle for territorial and resource control, to the detriment of victims who live in unbearable conditions outside their homelands. There’s misunderstanding amongst hosts and Western media that see refugees as parasites and destructive agents who hoard resources. Educating both sides of the refugee-host divide involved programs like UNVR that make immersive films. Usually, these experiences follow conventional 2D filmmaking approaches, using only static scenes and narration.



Instead of a static camera like traditional films, we move the 360 camera around, letting refugees pass the camera amongst each other, following them when they walk around and play football.


Instead of making the filmmaker disappear in VR narratives, we let ourselves be part of the story, playing and interacting with the refugees to show how the experience lives in real life.


Instead of asking them to speak into a mic, we film narratives based on refugee experience, both positive and negative, and let refugees frame their stories themselves, taking us on their journey.


We teach refugees to tell their own stories using a phone that they can use to record night activities during Ramadan and using a 360 camera that they can take anywhere to show their audience.


Instead of relying on storytelling through voice as in conventional documentaries, we embarked on a visual-journey-based approach to show the daily lives of Rohingya refugees in Balukhali, Bangladesh using dynamic movements in VR space, spatial audio that surprise, passing of point-of-view, and collaborative filmmaking leting participants express themselves using 360 camera as an exploration tool. We made 1. a narrative film about the loss of a daughter of the family on the way from Myanmar to Bangladesh that has been making its way through documentary film festivals, 2. a VR experience about life around the refugee camps from the perspectives of their children, and 3. a documentary about empowering refugees to express themselves by teaching them video-making during evenings at Ramadan.


Currently the over 1.1 million Rohingya refugees are dealing with consequences of COVID-19 disease, economic destruction, and isolation. See our photo-data narrative to read about our efforts and see how you can help.


Taking place during Ramadan, we empowered the Rohingya family to express their desire to show others their daily happiness and struggles by gifting them a phone to take photos and video, and showing them how to use a 360 camera and the process of converting 360 footage to VR. We told the family's story of the lost daughter in their own words, along with Rohingya folk music collected by Music in Exile.


Instead of investigating hardships of refugees from a Western perspective, we enabled a boy in the refugee camp and his friends to create a visual experience that represent their daily struggles the way they have become used to. The interactive VR film becomes an empowerment tool to enable self-expression in a part of the world that have become used to being the observed as opposed to the observer. This takes advantage of VR as a medium for both immersion and capability to surprise in 4D. The 1st exhibition of the work took place at THP ArtLab, a gallery focused on emergent technologies and classical traditions in Lahore, Pakistan.

The multimedia, multi-genre exhibition included a photography gallery that explores the psyche of the Rohingya family as it deals with familial loss, a narrative documentary that serves as a memoir of a daughter of the family who died on the way from Myanmar, a documentary about empowering Rohingyas through use of phones and cameras for self expression, and a VR immersive experience that takes the audience through life in the camp in Balukhali.
Watch our film SHAMIMA at the NYC Short Documentary Film Festival.
Visit our exhibit at Technology and Social Good at NYC and Ars Electronica at Linz, Austria.
Read our HCI paper at Cyber Worlds, our art paper at ISEA, originally part of NEoN Digital Arts Festival Re@ct.
Our presentation at THP ArtLab.
Our exposé of how Rohingya are dealing with COVID-19.