We are a kind nation.
We do not want conflict.
We have basic needs.
These were the few words imparted onto us during a ‘briefing’ that preceded a whirlwind, harrowingly authentic simulation of just what it’s like to be a refugee, fleeing your own country. We were given new identities. For a brief time my name was Ahmed. I had a wife but little else. I was about to become a refugee.
Please note everything you proceed to read is a recollection of a simulation in a controlled environment with actors and props. The simulation spanned days, but in reality, only lasted a few hours. Do not doubt me, the experience felt all too real, and proved very eye opening.
Armed men stormed into the room we had quickly crowded in, just as we were trying to find our families. As the rebels closed in, we scurried through a hole in the wall, down steep, uneven corridors, smoke filling our eyes. We ran and ran, eventually seeing a new border in sight.
As we were hurried up to the border, pushed and shoved, each individual was interrogated about their identity – name, age, occupation, family. Many people with possessions soon became possession-less after the border crossing. Shoes, belts, watches, jewelry, all taken.
We had to create shelter from tarps and trade the rest of what we had for medicine or food – whichever we needed more. There was little food to go round, less medicine. The guards who were there to supposedly protect us, berated us, shouted and attacked us. We were not safe, but it was better than being dead.
Darkness approached us deceivingly quick, and fear bred in the site. Women attempted to search for their lost ones in the dark, while others just cowered. One man was removed from his shelter and questioned brutally, the yelling and beatings heard throughout.
It was worse when it was quiet. When it was quiet, that’s when you had to be careful, had to pay attention, had to protect the women and children. If the Colonel couldn’t sleep, neither could the women… often ten, twenty women were taken from shelters and offered up to “do their duty”. There was little a man could do to stop it, save for getting himself killed.
This continued on and on. Tediously sleeping with one eye open, worried that you or your loved one would be touched or taken. Each day, less and less people were fed or treated by the doctors. Hope faded quickly.
“The simulation is over”, announced David Begbie, Crossroads simulation organiser, and with heavy hearts we turned to each other, the women taking off their headscarves, men embracing others for support. We were emotionally drained. This simulation, this figment of reality, this small representation of what 50,000,000 people go through for days, months, and years, had affected the best of us. In just a few hours, we had been separated, ‘starved’, our possessions confiscated, our identities taken, men subjected to feigned brutality, women subjected to worse. We had our rights stripped away, our humanity.
Manus Island. Christmas Island. Nauru. These are just a few of the ‘regulated’ detention centres that our Australian government is so insistent are safe and secure for refugees, despite numerous sources proving otherwise. Our government seems to have no intention of improving the standards or processes with which to help refugees restart their lives. They remain displaced persons, living in worse conditions than those experienced by privileged university students like myself during that simulation, while we carry on with our merry lives.
I write this article not to make you feel guilty, but to raise awareness, to encourage you to consider the lives of refugees, and to push for more government accountability on this issue. Is it not our duty as global citizens to help these people in need? With over 50 million displaced persons and refugees in the world, surely the least we can do is open our doors?
By Freddy Phillpot
Freddy undertook this simulation as a ‘learning journey’ at the recent University Scholars Leadership Symposium, held in Hong Kong, conducted by Humanitarian Affairs. He was selected to attend as part of the UTS:BUiLD program.