Wednesday 12 October 2011

Time to Flee

Aim of the activity:

-   to know the facts: reasons why people have to ask for refuge in another country; the hazardous situations and harsh conditions they endure
-   to empathise with refugees leaving their homes and countries.

The group should form families of about 8 people – Mum, Dad, Granny, Uncle Ali, the baby and three other children of school age. Each group should be given a felt tip pen and a sheet of paper.

Setting the Scene

Dad works as a journalist on the local newspaper. Mum is at home at the moment with the baby. Granny is in a wheelchair and housebound since her stroke. Uncle Ali, who is very religious, was a political prisoner for a number of years. Now he cannot get work. He walks with difficulty and a limp since prison. Dad drives an old car. Dad has been a leading figure in the local journalists’ trade union. The situation in the country has been changing quite dramatically recently.

Two months ago a military coup took place. There was a lot of gunfire on the streets. Tanks and armoured cars were everywhere. A lot of people were killed and others arrested. A curfew has been imposed and everyone must now stay indoors after dark. The military rulers have taken over the TV and radio. It is very hard to know what is really going on. What should the family do?

A month ago Dad was told that a number of people had been arrested by the new military rulers. Lots of others have simply “gone missing” – nobody knows where they are. They include religious figures, politicians, writers and trade unionists.

A fortnight ago a local newspaper (which supported the military coup) published a long list of people in the town that it says are enemies of the state. Both Dad’s name and Uncle Ali’s appeared on this list.

Last week Mum heard from a friend in the next town that some women have been arrested and are held by the military who are looking for their husbands. Even children have been taken hostage by the soldiers.

Four days ago it was announced that a number of trade unions including the journalists union had been banned.

Three days ago an unsigned letter was pushed through the door of the family home. It was made of letters cut out of newspapers and pasted on to a sheet of paper. The letter said Dad was “a spy and an enemy agent” and that “his days are numbered.” There was a drawing of a coffin and a skull, a noose and a gun. It was signed “Friends of the Motherland.”

Two days ago a religious friend rang up Uncle Ali and told him said he’d better get out – as he heard there were some people who were planning to get him and set the house on fire.

Yesterday some children at school said that snatch squads of soldiers had been searching the streets in a nearby neighbourhood and arresting people including some members in Dad’s trade union.

Today there has been the sound of gunfire in the main square and trucks full of military have been arriving in front of the Town Hall. There are roadblocks stopping all cars. Trains are being searched.

The family meet together to have a hurried discussion. What are they going to do? Mum says she thinks Dad and Ali are in particular danger and that the family should flee and seek political asylum abroad as refugees in another country. It takes under an hour to the border by car, but that would be very risky. By foot would mean a whole week’s journey through the desert and then the high forest across dangerous country to the frontier.

Now they hear that their neighbourhood is starting to be searched by the military.

They have 10 minutes to make their minds up, to get organised and get out.


1. Who is to go?
Each group must decide who should go, and who should be left behind or sent off to relatives, or hidden somewhere. Should they take Mum and the baby, Uncle Ali, Granny, and the children? Write the group’s decision on the sheet.

2. How should they travel?
By car or on foot.

3. What should they take with them?
Each group must make a list of the ten most important things to take with them. They must leave all their belongings behind.

-   What are their most treasured personal possessions that they want to take?
-   What do they need to keep them alive on a long journey?
-   What will help them prove they are genuine asylum seekers in another country?

When everyone is agreed, write the list down or draw pictures of the chosen items on the sheet.


a.      Get groups to report back on their lists.

Some may suggest:
food and water, a phrase book, their pet, a dictionary, a weapon, money or jewellery, a horse, tent, spade, torch, matches, warm waterproof clothes, bedding, address book, radio, TV, CD, washing things, toothpaste, passports or proof of identity, a map, family photographs, the death threat, the newspaper article (you may want to have created sets of cards with items on them to direct the discussion)

b.      Everyone discusses the pros and cons of each list.

-    A weapon might sound like a good idea, but it could get them into trouble or be used against them.
-   Taking a passport might help them enter another country, but could lead to them being identified and forbidden to escape from their own country.
-    Taking family photographs or an address book could be really important emotionally if they are never going to return to their home.
-    Money/jewellery could possibly be used to bribe officials as they travel.
-    Documentary evidence to support their claim for political asylum when they get to the border. This could be Dad’s union card, the anonymous death threat, the newspaper article. This will be crucial proof to back up their story when they try to get asylum.


Talk about how they felt during the game and how they would feel if they were deported when they arrive in the other country. For instance, refugees are often at risk of deportation after prolonged arbitrary detention in Lebanon.

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