What Is a Refugee? What Is it Like to Leave Home?
Young people learn what it is like to be a refugee through pictures, video, and stories. They build empathy and do an activity that simulates choices refugees must make.
Photo Credit: Refugees by Global Panorama is licensed under CC by 4.0
The learners will...
- define refugee.
- reflect on choices that refugees make about what to bring.
- give examples of how individuals have helped others.
- printed copies of the My Backpack handout below
- Video: A World In Crisis
- Video: Refugees: The Shared Story of Harry and Ahmad
- Video: Refugee Resettlement 101
refugee: a person who has been forced to flee from their home country and is unable or afraid to return because of war, violence, and persecution.
- UNICEF USA. Video: Refugees: The Shared Story of Harry and Ahmad (with interposed footage of Syrian refugees with historical footage from World War II)
- UNHCR, 2015. Video: A World In Crisis
- Partnership for the advancement of New Americas, 2016. Video: Refugee Resettlement 101
- UNHCR, 2020. Video: What is Refugee Resettlement and What is UNHCR’s Role?
- UNHCR, 2017. Video: Who is a Refugee
- Learning to Give Toolkit: Immigration and Refugees
- World Vision, 2022. Article: "The most urgent refugee crises around the world"
- World Vision, 2022. Article: "Syrian refugee crisis: Facts, FAQs, and how to help"
- United States Holocaust Memorial Museum "The Refugee Crisis, 1938-41"
- History of UNHCR - About Us
- The Language of Human Rights Vocabulary
Distribute printed copies of the My Backpack document (see handouts below) to each participant. Have them individually list 20 things they would put into their backpack to take with them if they had to quickly leave their homes for an unknown length of time.
- Have participants share and compare their lists with a partner and/or the large group. Note: This list will be used later in the session.
Before showing the video, A World In Crisis (UNHCR 2015), ask participants to listen for and write down keywords, ideas, information and questions from the video.
Following the video:
- Discuss what participants identified as the keywords, ideas, and information, and address any questions.
- Discuss and define refugee as "a person who has been forced to flee from their home country and is unable or afraid to return because of war, violence, and persecution."
Show the video: Refugees: The Shared Story of Harry and Ahmad.
The video compares two child refugees: Harry was a Jewish boy living in Hitler’s Nazi Germany during WWII. Ahmed was in the Syrian civil war, which "created the largest refugee and displacement crisis of our time, affecting millions of people and spilling into surrounding countries” (World Vision USA).
Discuss the similarities and differences between Harry and Ahmad. Ask:
- How would you respond if Harry or Ahmad was in your community needing help?
- How would you want communities and leaders to respond if you were in similar situations as Harry and Ahmad?
- How should countries respond to a refugee crisis?
Look up and discuss how countries, including the US, responded to the refugee crisis resulting from WWII, the Syrian war, and other conflicts.
Note: The U.S. remained neutral between 1938 and 1941. They didn't want to increase immigration or get involved in World War II. Some countries in Europe allowed Syrian refugees in. World Vision, a nonprofit organization, provides food, water, hygiene goods, and rest places for women and children in Serbia.
Activity: A Refugee’s Backpack (continued from above)
Have participants look at the 20 items in their backpacks (from the handout begun above). Tell them that someone is knocking on the door and has found out about their plans to leave. Participants no longer have time to pack the 20 items they planned earlier in the session. They will need to cross off 10 items from their list.
- Discuss and explain what they kept/eliminated and why - with a partner first and then the group.
Announce that as they were quickly fleeing their homes, their backpacks became too heavy. They now have to remove 5 items. Have them circle 5 things that they will leave.
- Discuss and explain what they kept/eliminated and why - with a partner first and then the group. Discuss what made it difficult to remove those 5 items.
Discuss their choices further:
- Did you pack anything to eat or drink? What food choices did you make and why?
- Did you bring money? What do they think you'll need money for? What are some reasons not to bring money?
- Many refugees make the journey by boat. Did you think about ways to prevent items from being ruined by seawater or rain?
- What are some similarities and differences between the choices made by people in the group? What did everyone think of? Did others' choices make you change your thinking?
- How does this activity make you feel? What questions does it raise?
Watch the video, Refugee Resettlement 101 and reflect on the general process for refugee resettlement. Is it fair, humane, safe? What works well, and what could be better?
Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
Standard PCS 02. Diverse Cultures
Benchmark MS.2 Describe the importance of hearing all voices in a community and respecting their right to be heard.
Benchmark E.2 Discuss the importance of respect for others.
Benchmark HS.2 Give examples from history of how intolerance of ideas, religion, and minorities contributed to social disintegration.
Benchmark MS.5 Discuss examples of groups denied their rights in history.
Benchmark E.5 Identify the relationship between individual rights and community responsibility.
Standard PCS 03. Philanthropy and Economics
Benchmark HS.9 Analyze a major social issue as a "commons problem" and suggest ways the civil society sector could help to resolve it.
Strand PHIL.IV Volunteering and Service
Standard VS 01. Needs Assessment
Benchmark E.1 Identify a need in the school, local community, state, nation, or world.
Benchmark MS.1 Identify a need in the school, local community, state, nation, or world.
Benchmark HS.1 Identify a need in the school, local community, state, nation, or world.