More than four million people have fled the civil war in Syria to refugee camps in neighbouring countries, including Turkey and Jordan.
Worldwide, more than 60 million people are displaced — more than any other time in history.
This refugee crisis remains largely abstract to the world’s most affluent people, even though they are in the best position to help mitigate the humanitarian emergency.
In an attempt to provide perspective on what it really means to be a refugee, the World Economic Forum had a refugee simulation at its annual conference in Davos, Switzerland.
Davos is a retreat for global leaders to discuss what’s happening around the world. Most of what is discussed is pablum, but the refugee crisis is a serious issue that’s top of mind for many here.
I did the simulation. It was not even 1% of what a refugee actually experiences, but it was enough to provide a jolt to my senses. It was by far the most illuminating thing I’ve experienced here. It was much better than a talk about what’s happening with refugees.
I took as many photos as I could before my phone was confiscated.
This is the man who will run our simulation. For now, he's very kind. In a few seconds, we will turn into a menace.
We were given new identities for the simulation. If you couldn't remember your name (and nobody could remember their name) you were screamed at.
All the women had to cover their heads to protect their hair. The women were also warned not to talk to men, lest they want to get in trouble.
As we ran from the gunfire, we were stopped. A man with a gun forced me to hand him my watch before I could proceed. This is common, apparently. If you have anything of value on you, it will be taken. If you're lucky you can use it to barter for things.
Then forced to the ground where we had to write down our names and why we are refugees and why we deserve asylum.
Then, things got scary. We were yelled at by men with guns and told we had to get into groups of 4-5 and go into a tent.
These are our tents, and they were tiny. There was no way to lay down in them. We had to sit upright to all fit in. There's no way a person can rest in here. They might eventually fall asleep but there is an overwhelming sense of panic so even sleep provides no rest.
There was an option to go to a doctor. Since my character had a broken wrist, I went. They said there was nothing they could do. Maybe tomorrow medicine would arrive to help me.
This is the food a refugee gets for a day. To get my food I had to barter. I had to give up my tie. Other people were forced to trade bracelets. As I was taking this photo, a security guard came up to me and took away my phone, shouting, 'Are you working with the rebels?'
I got my phone back when the simulation was over and took these photos of the school that was there.
The school was the best place to be at the camp. It was nice to have your mind off things, even if you couldn't understand what was being taught.
Photos help provide some idea of what the simulation was like, but really it's a full experience. You are screamed at, you don't dare look other people in the eye, and you can't possibly feel any level of comfort.
After the simulation was done, one of the people acting in the simulation told us a real life story of a refugee.
There was an 11 year old boy who was top of his class in Syria. The house next to his was bombed. Then his father was killed. He had to flee the country with his family.
Once he escaped Syria, he had to provide for his family -- his mother, and sisters. He got a job at a mechanic where he was paid $7 a day. He was physically, verbally, and sexually abused at his job. For an extra money he would let men violate him for $1 per act.
His rent was $300 a month, so to make the rent he had to perform sexual favours. He hated it, but the alternative was worse. If he didn't do it, then his sisters would have to.
Our guide said that so far this boy has not turned into a hateful man who would join an organisation like ISIS. She warned, however, that boys like him are preyed upon by extremist groups who often promise displaced youths a better life.
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