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Forced to flee: public partakes in refugee simulation

Locals go through detailed scenarios in honour of World Refugee Day
Rita Liu (left) and other participants try to decide if they should register in a refugee camp or keep moving as part of the “Forced to Flee Simulation,” which was hosted in honour of World Refugee Day. Nicole Crescenzi/VICTORIA NEWS

Victoria-area residents had a chance to participate in a simulation on Tuesday that represented the paths refugees might take when fleeing their homes.

The Forced To Flee Simulation was created by the Canadian Food Grain Bank, and presented by the Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria to help mark World Refugee Day, which falls on June 20.

The hour-long activity let people in groups of four or five move through a series of obstacles and decisions, including entering conflict areas, reaching military check points and crossing borders. The groups’ decisions affected their resources, represented by tickets labelled as food, money and health.

“This really gives people the context of difficult decisions,” said Kate Longpre, the ICA’s community integration co-ordinator. “When we’ve done it before with our staff, people could say ‘I want more time, more information,’ but resettled refugees often don’t have time, they have to make decisions quickly.”

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Those decisions also focus on questions refugees must ask themselves once they’ve crossed borders: do they continue migrating to an additional country? Go to a United Nations refugee camp, or set up in a less structured refugee situation in neighbouring country?

“It’s extremely difficult,” said participant Monica Hall Kowalewski, “You’re choosing between a really bad option, and a really, really bad option that could potentially fail. Plus there’s a lack of information, we have lots of questions we don’t have answers to, and that’s part of the stress.”

Participants also had to decide how to use their resources for things like bribing military guards, purchasing proper identification, or paying a human trafficker to get them across a border.

“Even the question of whether to have documentation or not seems really important; we’re so used to having it, but it might have been a better idea just to run,” said participant David Leach. ” It puts you in the frame of mind that maybe you have to leave everything.”

Longpre said this is the first time the simulation has been catered to the general public.

“Our staff found it tremendously impactful for building empathy, compassion and understanding,” she said. “I hope that those who came out to attend got a better understanding of what resettled refugees go through.”

There are over 65 million displaced people around the world, 22.5 million of whom are refugees.

“It’s very timely and very salient right now,” Longpre said. “Everyone deserves the right to grow and live in a safe place where they aren’t persecuted. Sometimes we can forget about that.”

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The hope is that participants in Tuesday’s exercise will think about actions they can take to help people fleeing famine, conflict or persecution.

That could include donating to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, privately sponsoring a refugee family in Canada or simply sharing their experiences of exercise online.

“It’s a very safe place to go through some very tough emotions,” Longpre said.

To run your own version of the simulation at any time, you can download the Force To Flee template from the Canadian Food Grains Bank website at