Growing up, Naseem Badar heard stories from her parents, uncles and aunts of how they fled for their lives from their village in northern India amidst bloody riots during the Partition and made their way to the newly created country of Pakistan. The Partition in 1947, following India’s independence from British rule, triggered one of the biggest forced migrations in history, uprooting more than 12 million people and killing more than one million. For Badar, who lives in London and has never visited India, it was hard to picture her family in Roopnagar in Punjab state, until she saw a virtual reality film made by non-profit Project Dastaan, which documents accounts of Partition survivors.“They had very vivid memories of the village and their homes – a certain tree, the lake, the mosques. Project Dastaan was able to find these places and film them, and it was a very emotional experience for my family to see them again,” she said. “They were traumatised by the Partition and suffered a great deal, but the film brought a smile to their faces. It is important to preserve these memories because it is a big part of their lives and of South Asia’s history,” she added.Badar’s family is among the 75 Partition survivors that Project Dastaan – meaning story in Urdu – aims to reconnect with their childhood homes through VR and other technologies, using volunteers in India and Pakistan to track down and film places. A record 79.5 million people were displaced globally at the end of 2019, with very few able to return home, according to the United Nations’ refugee agency (UNHCR).Migrants and refugees can easily become “mere statistics”, so it is important to preserve their stories, said Sparsh Ahuja, founder of Project Dastaan, which is backed by Oxford University and counts among its advisors Nobel Laureate Malala Yousufzai, who herself left Pakistan after a violent attack in 2012. “History should always be documented, so that we learn from it, and prevent tragic events from repeating,” said Ahuja, whose grandfather migrated to India from Pakistan as a seven-year-old.“VR is described as an “empathy machine” – it will not heal the trauma they suffered, but it is the closest they can get to returning to the homes they could never return to,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.FABRIC OF SOCIETYVirtual reality was initially tied to computer gaming when it became popular in the 1990s. But as the technology advanced, its immersive quality found many other uses, from fighting human trafficking to curbing dementia.Its application in documenting the lives of refugees includes a 2017 installation by filmmaker Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu of Mexican and Central American immigrants and refugees trying to get to the United States.Adrian Evans, a lecturer in archaeological and forensic sciences at England’s University of Bradford, began to use VR while working in Jordan near the Azraq camp, which held more than 35,000 Syrian refugees, about a fifth of them children.