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Virtual Reality Refugees

Meet the man bringing the issue of immigration detention centres in the UK to the world’s attention through virtual reality film. On a microscopic level, I introduce Darren Emerson, the innovative Director, filmmaker and founder of VR city who simulated a 360° virtual reality film depicting life in the UK immigrant detention system “through the true voices of people’s experiences”. The film can be seen via headsets that “you can’t turn away from” for audiences to momentarily experience what it is to be a refugee in today’s world, transported through 360° surround visuals generated by glare and head movement.

With the nature of the UK immigration detention centres, which have been likened to high security prisons, positioned in hidden locations with limited access “you would not find it unless you were looking”, Darren expressed. The film, which was posted on the New York Times app on Monday 19th December,[1] explores three areas: coming to the UK by claiming asylum; sitting behind bars with no access to internet or information about proceedings, and the tragedy of self-harm and suicide due to mental scaring after being held for an indefinite amount of time. Darren commented, “people easily make distinctions between good and bad immigrants, they may leave the detention centres eventually but the centre never leaves them”. This heinous narrative has circulated around our media spheres for far too long. Tainting the name of Syrian asylum seekers finding an alternative to the horrors they face at home. Contributing to the apathy felt in the west today, generated by monstrous images of denied refugees.

Darren recalls, “there was a great part at the end of the film where a small protest takes place, some people present felt proud and empowered whilst others felt saddened by how small the group protesting was”. This is an accurate representation of the split in consensus here. He says, “awareness through film, will create more public pressure”. Where virtual reality is a “slightly different language of story-telling, emersed in something that feels quite metaphysical, you connect in a way you wouldn’t get to through normal mediums.”

There is a lot of doubt in the rhetoric and propaganda circling media and social media spheres about the plight of refugees (or ‘migrants’ as some would rather call them); doubts in charities on the ground, doubts in child reporters on twitter and doubts of the legitimacy of independent journalists on the ground. Syria is a very complex and nuanced battleground; we must acknowledge this and question what we are told by interested parties. We must not fall into the trap of completely discarding very real and legitimate cries documenting the mass suffering of a people irrespective of who is documenting it and for what purpose. Oppression is very real, suffering is very real, deaths are very real, broken minds and families are very real. Reporter and filmmaker Bilal Abdul Kareem, for example, who escaped the besieged part of Eastern Aleppo, is a courageous voice and drive for listeners globally. The message he called out still applies today

“If Aleppo is important to you, then you have to understand Aleppo is happening all over Syria, if you want to make a difference, women and men are dying under missiles every single day and you have to be willing to say enough is enough and rally your leaders”.

He called protestors to “be engaged, be active, if you don’t you will fall into the narrative”. Fatima, an activist and student based in London, said on twitter,

“I believe everyone is capable of doing something, but we convince ourselves that it’s in the hands of the international community, despite the fact that they have failed Syria over and over again”.

In humanity there is a simple but powerful rule: it takes one intrepid individual to change a point of view and bring about a new idea, it takes one more individual to join that person to create a movement, a couple more and you have a revolution. Each of us in our own unique, creative, numerical, sporting, theatrical, medicinal, astrophysical way can help with talent and ideas. We are led to remember the timeless quote, ‘I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples’.

As we all become engrossed in our holidays, over-indulging on meals, and when the New Year brings competition of the most extravagant displays of wealth with fireworks, the news stories covering Aleppo,Syria and the plight of refugees die down. Out there, somewhere in the middle of a broken country, lies many a broken city, under a broken building, amongst ash and rubble and bodies, and snow. Therein live children, women and men who are separated, trying to make sense of the horrors that have come to pass. Cold, starving and mentally tormented.


Spending extra time breaking down the political complexities of the region to self-educate in matters that politicians will have us confused about can be massively helpful. In languages of humanity, a degree is not required nor will it teach us how to be more human. Rather, admitting what we do not know welcomes more knowledge. Let us research and eradicate doubts in order to donate more to charities involved. Let us diminish hesitancy and work on personal apathy. Bilal Abdul Kareem on his twitter called out via video to us, after intense shelling resumed in Aleppo,

“It appears when people are disengaged the sounds of war are stoked again. I need for everybody to retweet it as much as you can, everybody must stay engaged get educated”.

Even if the shelling ceases, the torment continues. In our own capacity there is an expectation to hold ourselves to some sort of standard and accountability in justifying our warmth, to have a conversation with Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) and ourselves in what gifts He (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) has put in each and every one of us with extreme importance and purpose. We must have confidence in our gifts, intellect, talents and capabilities to think outside the box, to rally, to help and to never forget.

Source: www.islam21c.com


[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/19/opinion/indefinite-immigrant-detention-opdocs-vr.html?_r=0

About Hanan Abdel-Khalek

One comment

  1. Great Migrant invasion? Except when white Europeans do it, it’s ok. Look at Australia, North America, South Africa and New Zealand…..full of white European migrants. White man’s double standards.

    Because colonization is the number one reason for immigration, its cause and effect and the consequences of invading and occupying other countries. For 500 years Native European migrants have wreaked havoc on Earth, before that no one knew where Europe was. The rest of the world is now pioneering the settlement of Europe. Great European countries who exported state terror to other countries and then criticise the fall out. Something wrong with that logic.

    The Old Continent should invite the refugees, due to the wars it set up and funded; as a source of renewal, as fresh neuronal cells that will salvage Europe from Alzheimer’s. These people, these children (mainly the children), if they are given a chance to live, to work, to study, to create art, will contribute to the birth of a new continent. Europe is in its death throes, senile and grouchy, a Megaera with rotten entrails, contaminated by the fascisms it bred – and never perished.

    Civilization is on the verge of a huge shift to a migratory population. Climate change is going to make large sectors of our planet uninhabitable and the populations of these places will migrate like the herds of Africa. It aren’t goanna be pretty. Inexorably our overpopulation will be remedied. Humankind has been more clever than the planet can support.

    I find it difficult to differentiate between refugees fleeing wars, fleeing food insecurity because of agribusiness policies, fleeing poverty because of IMF and World Bank policies. We can expect many, many more to be soon fleeing climate change but they will be considered economic migrant and not refugees. The British PM detailed it at the Summit and i paraphrase “if we help the refugees, we have to keep the migrants out”…and no doubt invent a league table of the deserving and the less deserving, the vulnerable and the less vulnerable… Don’t we have to look beyond the immediate cause such as the Afghan/Iraq/Syrian wars and seriously think about erasing those imaginary lines drawn on the planet called borders.

    There would be no refugee problem if there were no wars or threat of wars. WE invaded the countries of Afghanistan and Iraq. They were wars of our choosing. Neither Afghanis nor Iraqis attacked us on 9/11, even if you believe the official story. We fomented the Syrian disaster by using covert ops to identify people who were willing to overturn the Assad government and arming them and training them and when they came out of the shadows and used those arms, carefully orchestrated to make Assad look as though he had started the whole thing, Obama began his ‘Assad must go’ campaign. All hell broke loose in Syria because our government had again decided on regime change, as it had with Iraq and Libya. What part of ‘we are in THEIR country’ do we not understand. We started it, we broke it into smithereens, and we act as though we had nothing to do with it. Proud of our country?Not me.

    Maybe we should think about the consequences of bombing countries before we bomb them? If we destroy their country, they should be allowed in ours. Is weird how after thousands upon thousands of years of conflict we haven’t yet learnt the lesson: If you invade a foreign land, destroy their homes and ravage the land the locals will be displaced and roam around looking for a new place to settle… And for thousand and thousands of years at the start of each war the warmongers have uttered “this time it’ll be different” We know this, but this has never been about people; it’s about making money from waging wars. And that’s what our governments excel in. And they know very well about the consequences, but they simply couldn’t care less. The more they bomb Arabs, the more refugees will come seeking help and asylum, which means the extreme right in the West gets more support. Which means there’s more public support from just bombing them over there instead.

    Did we help Iraq? Afghan? Libya? Syria? No. I wonder when all the experts will realise our foreign policies are not working. Players like UK and USA take all the refugees since their are the main bombers.UK and USA should take all of the immigrants since these two are the ones that destabilised middle east in the first place. It would be great if instead of arguing about who should take how many we simply accepted that displaced people need a home and we should be making sure they have one, in a spirit of open humanitarianism.

    We are facing one of the biggest refugee crisis since the second world war, the Med has turned into a human soup with desperate people fleeing for safety: running from certain death to an uncertain future, risking death and facing cruelty and indifference from our ‘developed’ societies,They don’t want to leave their homes and come to Europe or anywhere else, they have no choice but what the hell, ‘they’re foreign and different and we don’t like them so stick them in a hole and defecate on them’, eh? I s that what you are saying scum? I am sick of being polite and nice to people who think we can’t make a difference or we can’t help. You just don’t want to help because you are just too comfortable and you don’t give a toss about anybody else. Go on, rant, rave and troll and let people die and show nothing but contempt and indifference but don’t feel good about yourselves or think that you are a decent human being, your very lack of compassion shows that you are not. Go down the pub with your mates, buy a pair of shoes – you know, something important and caring.

    Actually if you look at the refugee council statistics you will see that there are many Muslim countries have taken in refugees. Contrary to what the media tells us, the majority of refugees end up in countries that border the conflicted state. Lebanon has a large amount as has Jordan and other states that are much poorer than ours. If they fight for their country they are terrorists. Otherwise refugees. I wonder which one is easier. Perhaps the root of the issue isn’t the fact that they are refugees, but how they are treated as refugees? It’s time to make a humane stance for Refugees. They are fleeing war trying to save their families- some can only afford to send their children. While we sit in comfort these people are risking all for safety, time for compassionate stance and let the unaccompanied children in and young families. What would happen to these poor kids my heart does go out to them but they will still suffer from abusers who will exploit the wee souls God have mercy on them they didn’t ask for life to give them a raw deal yet in a way people are struggling and the world is so untrusting and sick i can see both side don’t know what the solution is to keep kids safe.

    “It is time for leaders to enter into a serious, constructive debate about how our societies are going to help people forced to leave their homes by war and persecution,” Shetty said.

    This is heart breaking reading. For all of those haters out there, just imagine one of these kids being a member of your family or group of friends. The desperation, fear and loneliness these guys must be feeling. They’re kids for fucks sake! Any of the people living in the conditions these guys are deserves help (and before people start, I don’t agree with poverty in the Uk either). It’s such a sad state of affairs.

    Yes we have children in need here, which is disgusting as we are the 6th richest country in the world. We have plenty to go around, but sadly have a Conservative government who are only interested in them and theirs. Do our own children have food? Yes they do, even if it’s sadly from a food bank.! Can they get clean drinking water? Yes they can! Do they have access to medication, treatment and pain relief? Yes for now, until this Conservative government fully privatise our NHS! Then we too will have men women and children suffering and dying in agony because they can’t pay for treatment, medication or pain relief! Do our poor children have to worry about bring injured, maimed or killed by bombs each and every day! No thankfully they don’t! Are there homes flattened to the ground? No they aren’t and if they have no homes, although a hostel isn’t very nice, at least they have a roof over their head! Big, big difference!!!!! There’s only one world and only one human family. What if they were your children? But they’re not are they?

    The NHS’s problems stems from the fact that it is being overstretched without being afforded the resources needed to run it. Immigrants, refugees, tend to be younger people who have relatively fewer health issues than older people. The primary burden is still the local elderly population. The NHS has a mandate to see and treat everybody in need, but the government is currently rendering it more and more difficult for the NHS to fulfil this mandate–understaffing, lack of funding, demoralising remaining staff. The country has the resources to run the NHS properly, but the current government is not interested in that. No money for the NHS but the Government always come up with money for bombs . Refugees are not the enemy but the people that made them refugees are . Blindly following what the media tell you ,get out in tot eh real world and truly understand what the real problem is & its not innocent people escaping War.

    When a Group like International Rescue who are happy to pay the likes of David Milliband over 400,000 for whatever he does for you, the same David Milliband who voted for war in Iraq, against investigating said war and wants Trident replaced with some other nuclear weapon system. The same David Milliband who is responsible for the creation of these refugees, I can only laugh, or sob. Hypocritical organisation who wants my money to pay the likes of David Milliband. so No. I’m happy to stand with Refugees if for no other reason than we made their lives at home a living hell but stand beside this group. I think not I’d puke!

    A minority of extremists are violent and dictatorial. Their religion has the potential to be full of violence and hatred, but then so does Judaism and Christianity – all three Abrahamic religions come from a common root. Historically there have been plenty of progressive Muslims and there still are, they made many of the discoveries that are the basis of our science today and continue to make positive contributions across society.

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