Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Immersed in the Refugee Run

Posted by: Nigel Chapman, Plan Chief Executive Officer

Away from the high level meetings, the smart conference hall and hotels, is a low key building which, for the week of the World Economic Forum* (WEF), became home to a remarkable experience.

The UNHCR and Crossroads have been coming to Davos for 4 years now to create the Refugee Run* - a simulation exercise where the participants, drawn from the thousands of WEF delegates, get the opportunity first hand to encounter some of the struggles and choices refugees and internally displaced persons face for their survival.

Strife and terror
In moments I am precipitated from the comfort of the pre-briefing in a well lit room with my normal identity to a dark, noisy simulation of a border crossing clutching my temporary ID papers.

I become Azeem, an 18-year-old student, caught up in the strife and terror brought about by ethnic violence. Luckily, unlike some of the rest of the group, I am not injured or separated from my family - according to my new papers. Torches are flashed in my eyes. Bribes are asked for - my wedding ring is too tight to remove, so my watch disappears into the soldier’s pocket.

I am now in the camp. Life is very difficult: little food and water unless the seller is bribed, intimidating noise and a feeling of powerlessness. We are herded around as day becomes night and back again with alarming speed. We walk through flashing lights representing landmines.

Reality check
There are oases of kindness - a school room for basic lessons, some healthcare for the injured - but the prevailing mood is harsh and bleak. Luckily for us, this is only a simulation and lasts 30 minutes. In the real world, living in conditions like these can become a way of life and of course with real guns, starvation, death and illnesses.

I was told that people react in different ways. High powered executives find it very hard to adapt to the loss of power and control. Some start shouting at the soldiers, which results in detention. It is all a far cry from the day job.

Moving experience
Afterwards, in the de-brief, we hear from some of the actor-soldiers - men who fled for their lives in Northern Uganda, and Zimbabwe, and stayed in camps like the one in the simulation for years.

The Refugee Run was a very moving experience. Some of our group were in tears at the end. It has been reported that fewer senior executives than normal had been this year, their minds on the future of the euro, and fears of a downturn in the world economy. I suspect an hour spent on the Refugee Run would put all that into perspective.

See Nigel at the event on Yahoo news* photo of the day

*Plan is not responsible for the content on external websites

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