Students participate in refugee simulation

Izzy Manzo – Contributor

About 50 students were able to experience the life of a refugee last Friday during the Passages simulation, created by the United Nations, which outlined the process of being a refugee and seeking asylum in a new country.

The simulation began with students subdivided into “families” from countries such
as Myanmar, Sudan or Somalia. The families were then separated and given the task of trying to find each other while blindfolded.

“I felt worried, I felt scared, I felt overwhelmed,” said Andressa Granado, a junior and public health major. “It’s kind of weird that we know we’re in this room but as soon as you’re blindfolded and there’s too much simulation, you forget where you are.”

Students then experienced temporary shelter, which was purposefully meant to make them feel crowded and uncomfortable, to mirror the kinds of living conditions a refugee can find themselves in. This lasted for about seven minutes.

Students then worked towards gaining asylum, filling out paperwork before being blindfolded again and crossing a border made from seltzer cans and plastic bags, which got them sent back if they made too much noise.

Once they made it to their designated new country, they had to face immigration officers and plead their case before being granted asylum.

Esteban Garcia, associate bursar, said Passages is an attempt to raise awareness for the difficulties refugees face.

“People just don’t get up and leave their country,” Garcia said. “There’s gotta be really bad situations in their home country that forces them to leave…and it’s really difficult to travel, to cross borders, and to deal with conflicts and judicial systems.”

He said Passages is also part of the university’s attempt to have more interactive, hands-on events during Social Justice Month.

“Every year we try and do something different for Social Justice month rather than a lecture,” said Garcia. “We wanted to have something that’s more interactive and more meaningful for students.”

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Joaquin Selmeski, a sophomore, said the simulation constantly threw participants back and forth between the comfort of reality and the refugee situation that millions go through.

“If you didn’t really think about the refugee process— and I know I haven’t–then it’s a very enlightening process,” said Amber Domond , a senior. “I feel like if they tweaked it a little bit more, so we actually do experience some terror or some stress, then I get the difference.”

Domond said the simulation could have done more to heighten the gravity of being a refugee.

“[The security guards] were only a little intimidating…If you displayed [antagonism] a little bit more, that would be more impactful to me.” Domond said.

Selmeski said it was impactful to watch the families cling onto each other throughout the process. She said all the groups argued they had a legitimate reason to enter the country, but not everyone was able to come over.

The experience has brought the refugee crisis to the forefront of the mind, said Selmeski.

Some students also pointed out the plights of refugees is rarely discussed in the media, which focuses more on immigration itself rather than why people are leaving their home countries.

Domond said the United Nations Refugee Agency fact sheet stated some refugees can stay in camps for years–which he said he found to be upsetting.

“I can definitely empathize more with refugees now” said Domond, “than I did before.”

Photo Credit: Izzy Mano

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