* Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
SEOUL, Republic of Korea, February 12 (UNHCR) - In this highly-wired country of 50 million tech-savvy people, it is almost impossible for anyone to spend a lifetime completely hidden from the public eye.
Refugees, however, have remained largely unseen by people in South Korea for decades. "I would like to be seen and heard by the people," said Choto Chakma, a refugee from Bangladesh who came to Korea in 2007. "It is not pity that I want. I just hope to be a part of Korean society in some way."
To shed light on the lives of refugees like Chakma, UNHCR, Cheil Worldwide and the Seoul Museum of Art have joined hands to hold a 3D refugee figurine exhibition in Seoul. Titled "Invisible People," the exhibition is aimed at making refugees in and outside South Korea "visible," using advanced technology that helped create the miniature figurines.
Organized as part of Cheil Worldwide's corporate social responsibility activities, UNHCR and the firm together met refugees in South Korea and Niger over the last two months. The refugees had their photographs taken and three-dimensional mini figurines were produced based on their images. In-depth interviews with the refugees were also captured on video.
The results - dozens of figurines, each no larger than a handspan - are displayed in hidden places such as stairways, shelves and windowsills of the Seoul Museum of Art. Visitors who find the figurines can listen to the refugees' stories by connecting their mobile phones with the QR/NFC codes inserted in each figurine.
To reflect the widespread indifference towards refugees, several large screens have been displayed in the main exhibition hall showing real-time video of people walking past the refugee figurines nonchalantly.
The small size of the figurines and the unusual places where they are displayed are in line with the goal of the exhibition to help visitors find refugees and "make the invisible, visible," organizers explained.
"Instead of telling people about refugees in a straightforward message, we were hoping to help visitors think and understand the difficulties and needs of refugees while finding them and listening to their stories one by one," said Song-ha Lee, a copywriter at Cheil Worldwide and co-director of the exhibition.
South Korea became signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention in 1992 and recognized its first refugee in 2001. A growing number of people have been seeking asylum in the country, seeing it as the homeland of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and a country with advanced human rights.
By the end of 2013, more than 6,600 people had sought asylum in South Korea from countries such as Pakistan, Syria and Myanmar. Some 370 of them were recognized as refugees by the Korean government.
During an interview with UNHCR and Cheil Worldwide in Niger, Ouda Ag Mohamad, a refugee from Mali, wished that people in South Korea and around the world would "never have to leave their homes and become refugees" like himself. "I hope you can live in dignity and security throughout your life," he said. "I also hope peace will be restored in my country as soon as possible so that I can return home."
Dirk Hebecker, UNHCR's representative in Seoul, asked people to never forget that "refugees leave their homes and family not because they want to, but because they have to." He said he hoped more people would get to know about the plight of refugees in and outside Korea, and recognize them as visible people. "We are thrilled to be part of such a great exhibition made possible by a creative, dynamic team of young advertising professionals."
The exhibition of 3D refugee figurines opened on February 7 and will run through March 2 at the Seoul Museum of Art in central Seoul.
For more information, please watch the video
By Heinn Shin in Seoul, the Republic of Korea