Symposium on Refugees

9, 10, 11, 12

Students share what they have learned about refugees and how to help them in a symposium format. Each small group selects a different subtopic related to refugees. They create and present a paper or speech for an event or website. They invite an audience and raise awareness about refugees and encourage people to take action. Optional: students and symposium participants may plan a service project as a result of the discussion.

PrintTwo 45-Minute Sessions, plus group time to prepare presentations

The learner will:

  • work in a small group to select a symposium subtopic.
  • determine a format and timeline for the symposium.
  • prepare for the symposium and publicize the event or website.
  • present the symposium and evaluate the group presentations.
  • plan and carry out a service project to address the needs of refugees.
  • asylum: the right to be recognized as a refugee and receive legal protection and material assistance
  • asylum seeker: a person who flees his or her own country and seek sanctuary in another country; asylum gives one the right to be recognized as a refugee and receive legal protection and material assistance
  • economic migrant: someone who leaves his or her country of origin for financial reasons, rather than due to persecution or violation of human rights like refugees
  • immigrant: someone who takes up permanent residence in a country other than his or her original homeland
  • internally displaced person (IDP): someone who has been forced to flee his or her home for the same reason as a refugee, but remains in his or her own country and has not crossed an international border. Unlike refugees, IDPs are not protected by international law or eligible to receive many types of aid
  • migrant: a person who moves to a foreign country for a variety of reasons and for a certain length of time (usually a minimum of a year)
  • 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  
  • “Prima Facie” refugees: refugees who are recognized as needing human rights protection on a group basis (for example, a mass movement of refugees across a border during a widespread conflict)
  • 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.
  • stateless person: someone who is not a citizen of any country. Citizenship allows for certain political, economic, social and other rights of the individual, as well as the responsibilities of both government and citizen.
  • transient: the condition of staying only a short time; not lasting

Ask students to evaluate their contribution to the symposium. Encourage them to reflect on the impact they may have had, what went well, and what they would like to do the next time they do a similar project. Have them answer the following questions in their reflection (in writing or small group discussion).

Who did you reach through your symposium?

What impact did you have on the issue?

Where will you see results of your work?

Why is this an important issue?


 Links to UNHCR-related sites

Links for Background on Refugees
Links for setting up social networking and blogging sites:


  1. Anticipatory Set:

    Ask, "What is an advocate?" Help the students define an advocate as someone who writes, speaks, or acts in favor of a person or an issue. Brainstorm a list of ways they could advocate for refugees (write a blog or use other social mediato raise awareness, volunteer at a refugee center, hold an assembly at school,organize a fundraiser, etc.).

  2. Tell the students that one way to be an advocate for an issue is to hold an informational symposium to raise awareness of the facts and possible actions. A symposium is a meeting or conferenceat which several people speak on and discuss a topic in front of an audience. If possible, show the students an example of a video, paper, or poster from a symposium.

  3. In this activity, students will work in groups to construct either a virtual symposium or a live symposium on the topic of UNHCR’s mission to meet the needs of the world’s most vulnerable people. The symposium can be conducted as an interdisciplinary unit or as a service-learning project. Instructions for both the virtual symposium and the live symposium are included below and on the student handouts.

  4. Teacher Note on social networking and web-based publishing: Consider the nature of internet publishing in regard to two-way communication. You may wish to promote responses to the symposium from viewers through a blog or social network page by providing an e-mail link, or simply review responses posted to the page. Because of the wide-open nature of social networking, you may need to preview any responses to students’ work prior to allowing students to view them.

  5. Live Symposium: If desired, the symposium can be presented as an extracurricular project by a class or a homeroom. You may want to invite other classes, parents, and community members to attend.

  6. Procedure:

  7. Move students into five groups and assign each group one of the following topics: What is UNHCR? How do people become refugees? What protection and assistance are provided by UNHCR? What are the current emergency situations where UNHCR currently operates? What is the status of refugee women and children? More details about each topic can be found on Handout Three: Symposium on UNHCR. 

  8. Distribute the appropriate handouts. Handout One and Two provide rubrics with guidelines for either the virtual or live symposium. Handout Four: Tasks for Live and Virtual Symposiums provides a list of tasks for the groups. Handout Five: Background on UNHCR includes information on the origin of the UNHCR. Review the guidelines and the assessment rubrics with students.

  9. Determine the type of symposium the class will conduct and possible formats and presentation styles. Brainstorm and assign tasks for promoting the event. Set a date for the symposium and determine the timeline for marketing, invitations, and presentations.

  10. Provide class and homework time for groups to conduct their research and prepare their presentations. The presentation must be 10 - 15 minutes long. All group members must participate in the presentation. There must be a visual aid in the presentation.

  11. As students complete their virtual symposium presentations, put these online at one of the suggested online sites for sharing student work found in the Bibliographical References below. You can invite parents, school personnel, and community members to attend the symposium and comment using a blog, wiki, or Ning service.

  12. For classes presenting the live symposium, have students rehearse presentations to make sure they are prepared. Send out notices to all invited guests according to the established timeline. You might want to invite parents, school personnel, and community members to attend the symposium. You also might consider posting details about the symposium on school bulletin boards, digitally on a website and/or on a community bulletin board. Be sure to provide time for questions and answers at the end of the presentations.

  13. Have students evaluate the impact of their symposium and make plans for following up with further discussion and action. As a class or with audience participation, they may plan a fundraiser, such as a bake sale.

  14. Youth Voice Note: Although the symposium topic is refugees, there are many subtopics that students may make the focus of their presentation and service project. After research, presentation, and discussion, the interests of the group may lead them in a specific direction, such as the education of youth in a refugee camp.


Assess student performance on working cooperatively with others and class participation during discussions. Assess their symposium presentations based on one of the two rubrics provided (Handout One: Virtual Symposium Rubricor Handout Two: Live Presentation Rubric).

Cross Curriculum 

Students advocate for refugees in a symposium. As an optional extension, they design and carry out a service project, such as a fundraiser, to address the needs of refugees. Have some students contact local groups that work with refugees to find out what their needs are. These students can report back to the group so they can decide what they can do to help. They may contact a local refugee resettlement organization (may be through a faith-based or community group), which can be found doing an Internet search. These groups may need volunteers to help a refugee family move into a new home,show a refugee how to use the local transit system, write a resume, or to take a group of refugee children to a zoo or museum. The students may choose to organize a fundraiser, a collection drive for needed items (blankets, clothes, toiletries, shoes, boots, etc.), or an advocacy campaign to raise awareness of the need for acceptance and empathy for people who have lost their homes and everything familiar. Be sure to find out the needs of a local organization before starting a collection drive to make the collection suitable for the situation. Note: UNHCR does not accept in-kind donations. The website lists organizations working abroad that accept such donations.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 07. Skills of Civic Engagement
      1. Benchmark HS.3 Participate in acts of democratic citizenship in the community, state or nation, such as petitioning authority, advocating, voting, group problem solving, mock trials or classroom governance and elections.
  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.
    2. Standard VS 02. Service and Learning
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Select a service project based on interests, abilities, and research.
    3. Standard VS 03. Providing Service
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Provide a needed service.