How Does it Feel to be a Refugee?

9, 10, 11, 12

Use this opening activity to help students understand, on a personal level, what it means to be a refugee. They discuss the benefits of home and family and explore the feelings experienced by refugees who have lost everything.

PrintOne 45-Minute Session

The learner will:

  • identify the possible feelings, hopes, and fears of refugees forced to leave their homes against their will.
  • explore why people and charitable nonnprofit organizations are motivated to help unknown others.
  • write a letter or journal entry from the perspective of a refugee that shows empathy and understanding.
Teacher Preparation 

Before conducting the activity, make copies (or project the image) of the UNHCR poster “How does it Feel?”

  • immigrant: someone who takes up permanent residence in a country other than his or her original homeland
  • repatriation: the process of returning to one’s home country. The majority of refugees prefer to return home as soon as it is safe to do so after a conflict.
  • resettlement: the process of helping a refugee find a new, permanent home when they cannot safely reside in a country of first asylum or return home  
  • refugee: someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group; a refugee either cannot return home or is afraid to do so. War and ethnic, tribal and religious violence are leading causes of refugees fleeing their countries.

As students write the journal entry from the perspective of the refugee, they reflect with empathy about refugees. After the writing experience talk about how they felt to speak from that perspecitve.

 Links to UNHCR-related sites
Links for Background on Refugees


  1. Anticipatory Set:

    Ask students to recall a time they felt out of place in a situation, such as being a new student. Discuss how it feels when you are in an unfamiliar place with people you don't know.

  2. Place students into small groups of two or three. Distribute copies of the UNHCR poster "How Does It Feel?" to each group or project it on the board. Have students work through the first four steps of the handoutin their groups. Discuss why being part of a group can help people survive displacement from their homes.

  3. Then read aloud the scenario from steps five and sixof the Student Handout. Help the students envision whatmay force someone from his or her home.

  4. Now have students consider their fate as a refugee from the Student Handout.Have them think about the situation,discuss withtheir small groups, then talk about the questions as a whole class.Tell the students that people and organizations in the civil society sector help refugees survive by organizing camps and providing resources. Point out to the students that the poster was produced by USA for UNHCR, a charitable nonprofit organization that helps refugees.Ask why the United Nations and people will helpunknown others in this situation.

  5. Finally, have students write a letter or journal entry from the point of view of a refugee expressing his or her feelings and thoughts about how they will survive the refugee camp immediately and move out of itin the long-term.


Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 01. Self, citizenship, and society
      1. Benchmark HS.2 Discuss and give examples of why some humans will sacrifice for the benefit of unknown others.
      2. Benchmark HS.3 Give examples of human interdependence and explain why group formation is one strategy for survival.
      3. Benchmark HS.5 Describe civil society advocacy organizations and their relationship to human rights.
  2. Strand PHIL.IV Volunteering and Service
    1. Standard VS 01. Needs Assessment
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Identify a need in the school, local community, state, nation, or world.
      2. Benchmark HS.2 Research the need in the school, neighborhood, local community, state, nation, or world.