The predominant image we get from the media of a typical refugee camp is one of desperate, lethargic people living under horrible conditions in tents provided by relief organizations. For the interactive cross-media documentary Refugee Republic, artist Jan Rothuizen, multimedia journalist Martijn van Tol and photographer Dirk Jan Visser travelled to northern Iraq to record daily life in one of the biggest refugee camps in the region.

They found that in reality refugee camps quickly become mini-societies, where the refugee-citizens make home improvements, go to the bakery, look for work or start up a business, seek entertainment, fall in love, argue with neighbours, get married and have children, who also go to day-care centres after school. In fact, there is much more ‘joy, resilience and inventiveness than one would have thought’, as one reviewer concluded.

Refugee Republic premiered at the Amsterdam documentary festival IDFA in November 2014, coinciding with print versions in the newspaper De Volkskrant and the magazine OneWorld. The web version takes you to four routes through Camp Domiz in northern Iraq, where around 64,000 predominantly Kurdish Syrian refugees have sought shelter. In his distinctive way, Jan Rothuizen drew a ‘soft atlas’ of the camp, with his comments added to the drawing. Serving as the basis for the project, this map is enriched with imagery and stories by Van Tol and Visser. 

Refugee Republic was called ‘the most innovative Dutch documentary of recent times’ and was nominated for the Silver Camera award for most innovative photojournalism.