January 22, 2019 9:39 pm

‘They need to feel it to get it’: World Economic Forum attendees can spend ‘a day in the life of a refugee’

WATCH: White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders announced Thursday that President Donald Trump has cancelled a U.S. delegation to Davos, Switzerland for the World Economic Forum, adding that the decision was due to the partial government shutdown.


For the past 10 years, attendees of the World Economic Forum have had the option to take part in a simulation that attempts to recreate the refugee experience in 75 minutes.

The Crossroads Foundation has hosted A Day in the Life of a Refugee at the World Economic Forum in Davos since 2009, and 2019 is no exception. The program involves a cast and crew of volunteers comprised entirely of former refugees to recreate for the participants the experience of displaced people.

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Over 500 attendees signed up to take part in the simulation last year, and Crossroads director David Begbie says the results are always consistent.

“If you want people to engage with an issue, statistics will typically not do that at a sustained level. It needs to be internal; they need to own it. They need to feel it to get it, and the amazing thing about these programs is the deep empathy that comes through the participants going through these programs,” he explained.

Top executives and diplomats have taken part in the simulation over the years, including UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales and president of UPS International Dan Brutto.

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In a Facebook post, U.S. Ambassador to Switzerland Suzi G. LeVine called it “an intense, powerful way to build empathy” and highly recommended others take part. The Turkish prime minister’s wife, Sare Davutoğlu, was also in her group.

In the post, she describes some of what she experienced during the simulation, including, “[using] ID cards, [covering] our hair (for women), [experiencing] abuse, [enduring] sensory overload, [feeling] humiliated,” and more.

According to Begbie, the program is designed to drive home several key messages about the experience of refugees.

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These include the forced displacement refugees experience when home is no longer safe; disempowerment when one’s future is in others’ hands; the inability to connect with loved ones when communication is severed; insufficient resources to provide proper health care, education, food, shelter and infrastructure; deepened suffering when human rights are not protected; vulnerability to corruption, abuse and trafficking; mental agony from living with past horrors such as depression, trauma and PTSD and the depth of longing for asylum status as well as the right of abode and the right to work.

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Videos of past simulations show the refugee journey from the moment participants are told they must flee their homes, following them through various stages on the road to resettlement. Along the way, participants are often jostled and harassed by armed officials and forced into tight spaces for questioning, all while travelling with few to no assets.

Lighting techniques appear to be used to simulate bombings, erratic travel schedules and other traumatic events.

See a photo gallery of the simulation that ran at the World Economic Forum last year:

The global refugee crisis has taken centre stage at the gathering for many years now, and will surely be top of mind for attendees at the 2019 conference. Several prominent world leaders declined to attend the forum this year in order to handle major issues at home.

Those absent include U.S. President Donald Trump amid the government shutdown, British Prime Minister Theresa May to grapple with Brexit talks, and France’s Emmanuel Macron to face popular protests.

The forum is running from Tues., Jan 22 to Fri., Jan 25.

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