Monday, June 22, 2015

A Day in the Life of a Refugee: World Refugee Day

By Connor Donaldson
Saturday, June 20, was World Refugee Day. Local Red Cross staff participated in activities and simulations in both Greeley and Colorado Springs.

Each day, millions of people around the globe scrape out an existence as refugees, internally displaced persons, and asylum seekers. To help raise awareness for World Refugee Day, the Global Refugee Center in Greeley hosted an open house centered on their “A Walk in their Shoes” simulation.

This simulation, developed based on United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) guidelines, attempts to give participants a glimpse of life as a refugee. Through a variety of scenarios, following the path from displacement to border crossings to life in refugee camps, the simulation uses sensory deprivation, assigned disabilities, and synthetic foreign languages to simulate the everyday hardships that refugees face. For many participants, this eye-opening experience is the first exposure to the daily plight of displaced persons and refugees, and many found it hard to handle and disturbing.
During the simulation, participants receive "paperwork" that
recreates the experience many refugees face when encountering
an unfamiliar language.

For the simulation, I was assigned the role of a five-year-old girl, initially separated from her family by a bombing and muted by a poison gas attack. As a student of international humanitarian law (IHL), it was really difficult to walk through this simulation, understanding that while we can walk away and return to our lives of comfort and ease, this is the reality of millions of people.

Each step in the process illustrates the abuses of humanitarian law, from the bombing of civilians by a government entity to the demanding of bribes by border security, violating international rights of migration. I watched as my “family” was separated, harassed, and I was eventually left behind, since my “father” had nothing to bribe the guards with to get me across. This is a constant reality for people living in fear, fleeing for their lives from natural disasters, sectarian and political violence, and religious persecution.

Through this simulation, I met a refugee from the Kayah State of Burma who fled political persecution with her family when she was 5 years old. She walked through the simulation with us, and afterword sat down with me to discuss the simulation and her experiences as a refugee. She mentioned that during the sensory-deprivation section of the course, with flashing lights and banging noises, gave her flashbacks to her father carrying her through the jungle, fleeing the policemen searching for her father. That statement really affected me; a punch in the gut serving as final reminder that this is reality for people around the globe, and that nothing we simulate can possibly reach the levels of sheer terror experienced by these people, but this simulation did have the power to give the briefest taste of such horrors.

For more information of the Global Refugee Center, visit

Read more about the rights of civilians and refugees.

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