Refugee Republic

Jumpstarting a new existence in an emerging city. Everyday life in a refugee camp.

Refugee Republic is an interactive transmedia documentary about everyday life in Domiz Camp, a Syrian refugee camp in northern Iraq.

The aim of the makers, artist Jan Rothuizen, multimedia journalist Martijn van Tol and photographer Dirk Jan Visser, is to enrich the existing image of refugee camps by building an anatomical sketch of everyday life in the camp, through a combination of drawings, film, photography, sound and text to create a sensory experience.


A group of women sit on the ground in front of a row of white tents, waiting for help. A child covered in dust stands behind barbed wire gazing wide-eyed into the lens. These are the images that reach us from refugee camps. And yet a whole world lies behind these images, one that few people witness with their own eyes.

We understand the camps to be temporary measures, but worldwide refugees remain in some form of relief care for an average of 17 years. (Source: Norwegian Refugee Council).

For the first time since the Second World War there are more than 50 million refugees worldwide. The hundreds of refugee camps across the world are rapidly growing into mini-societies, with refugees as citizens and relief organizations as governments. Like any others, the refugee-citizens make home improvements, go to the baker, look for work or start up a business, seek entertainment, fall in love, argue with the neighbours, get married and have children, who also go to day care centres after school.

Just as we do, the refugee-citizens navigate between the opportunities and risks of the free markets in the camp and the sometimes helpful and at other times intrusive camp government.

Refugee Republic takes you into the world behind the relief organization posters. The makers of this interactive documentary went to Camp Domiz in northern Iraq, where around 64 thousand predominantly Kurdish Syrian refugees have sought shelter. You can explore the camp through the pen drawings of an artist, the lens of a photographer and the ears of a radio producer. You meet the residents and get to know them by scrolling through audio-visual narratives, or wandering through drawings enriched with sound.

Through an interactive map you get to know a.o. Ahmed (13), who skips school to look after his bird stall, you follow a day in the life of the busy circumciser Shixmous (63), you drink a cup of tea between tuk tuk engines with the Mahmoud the tinkerer (23), and you fall silent with Fatma (16) who hopes to find her big break as a singer via Youtube.

They each arrive, exhausted, at the camp entrance. They each receive a basic aid box. And then their lives here begin. Welcome to Refugee Republic.


A Submarine Channel production in co-production with De Volkskrant

Concept & Drawings Jan Rothuizen
Concept, Text, Audio, Editing Martijn van Tol
Concept, Video, Photography Dirk-Jan Visser
Concept, Interactive Developer, Editor Aart Jan van der Linden
Interactive Producer Yaniv Wolf
Interface Design Christiaan de Rooij
Music, compositions and all instruments Bonno Lange
Audio & Colour Correction Joost Wierenga
Additional Video Editing Thijs PapĂ´t
Studio Assistants Mark Lohmann, Soeraya Siemons
Text Layout Jorgen Koolwijk
Research Martin Turner
Project Management Iraq Michelle Hamers, Nienke Nauta
Interpreter Iraq Bahmand Osei
Translators Peshmerge Morad, Rosie Heinrich
Text corrections Wybrand Scheffer & Esther Ottens
PR Lotte Niks, Yaniv Wolf (yaniv [at]
Producers Bruno Felix & Femke Wolting. A Submarine Channel Production 2014
Co-Production de Volkskrant: Laurens Verhagen, Chef Digital de Volkskrant

This producation was made possible by:

The Non-fiction Transmedia Programme (A collaboration of: Creative Industries Fund, Dutch Media Fund and the Netherlands Film Fund)
De Volkskrant
Free Press Unlimited Postcode Loterij Fonds
One World
The Creative Industries Fund NL
The City of Amsterdam

Wedding footage Private collection of Ahmet Pashew

Many thanks to: Mirka Duijn
Bram Jansen