Enhancement of empathy outside school (friends, family, strangers
• Flipchart or board to write on
• Simple props like chalk and/or furniture (desks, chairs, etc) to create the border crossing post
• Pens and paper for the observers to make notes
• One computer for each group of students.
• The plight of refugees
• The social and economic arguments for giving and/or denying asylum.
Given the huge impact of the refugee crisis which is profoundly felt across Greece and other European countries over the recent years, this activity offers students the opportunity to experience and feel the plight and agony of refugees who find themselves running away from their homelands in order to seek a better fate elsewhere. It helps them understand through role-play and empathy the refugees’ struggle as well as their expectations for a better life and their profound need for the fulfillment of their basic human rights.
More specifically, the activity addresses the rights to seek asylum in other countries, the right of non-refoulement (the right not to be returned to their country where they can risk persecution or death) and the right to freedom from discrimination. The main strength of the activity is that it makes the students actually feel what it is like to be another person and place themselves into other people’s positions. It is already designed to develop empathy and compassion. This element has been further strengthened by making use of an interactive video which again places the students into the refugees’ position in a direct manner. Photographs showing scenes from the Greek borders full of refugees can also help bring the activity to life.
As a warm-up activity, they can be asked to brainstorm what they already know about refugees, what they have heard on the news, read in newspapers, etc. Students can say why they think there are refugees, what causes people to flee their homeland, where they come from and the countries that they go to. This will help us later decide how to guide the debriefing and evaluation, and what additional information we may need to provide at the end of the activity. The points made can be written on a large sheet of paper or flipchart to refer to in the discussion later on. The teacher should not explain much at this point, or make detailed comments on students’ statements. The aim of this task is to see how much students know or think they know and use this information after the end of the activity to compare and juxtapose it with what they have learnt. We allow approximately 5-10 minutes for this stage.
2. Set up the scene by using simple props such as chairs and desks to simulate the crossing border. Photographs showing real scenes from refugees gathered in country borders and border officials can be shown to enhance understanding of the situation. Start explaining the scenario to the students. Tell them that they are on the border between two countries. We can use fictitious names of countries (such as New Lizesaint and Northern Deslands) or real names (i.e. Greece and Turkey). In our version, real countries were used. A large number of refugees have arrived. They want to cross into Greece. They are hungry, tired and cold and have travelled a long way from their home countries, Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. Some have a little money and only a few have identification documents or passports. The border officials from Greece have different points of view about the situation. The refugees are desperate, and use several arguments to try to persuade the border officials to let them in.
4. Divide the participants into three groups: one group to represent the refugees, the second group to represent the border officials, and the third group to be observers/journalists. The groups need not be equal in number. In fact, it is better to divide them in proportion to real situations, so the group of refugees should be the largest in number, and those of the guards and the observers could be much smaller.
5. Tell the "refugees" and the "border officials" to work out a role for each member of the group and what their arguments will be. Advise the observers about giving feedback. Distribute the role cards and give students approximately 10-15 minutes to reflect on their roles, discuss with other members of their group and prepare their arguments for the role play.
6. We can then start the role-play and let it unravel. The teacher can use their own judgement about when to stop, but about 10 minutes should be long enough.
7. After the end of the role play, we allow the observers 5 minutes to prepare their feedback; then we can start the debriefing and evaluation.
8. Second teaching hour:
We start by asking the observers to give general feedback on the role-play. What they have witnessed, how they felt, and how they would narrate the events. Then we get comments from the other groups of students about how it felt to be a refugee or a border official. Did the activity help them see things from another perspective? We then move on to a general discussion about the issues raised and what participants have learnt (the debriefing should approximately last for 10 minutes). We can ask questions such as:
• How fair was the treatment of the refugees?
Refugees have a right to protection under Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and under the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. Were the refugees given their right to protection? Why/why not?
• Should a country have the right to turn refugees away? When? For what reasons?
• Would you turn someone away if you were a border official? What if you knew they faced death in their own country?
• How are refugees met at the borders of your country? Are any of their human rights being violated? Which?
• What can and should be done to stop people becoming refugees in the first place?
9. As a follow-up to this activity, students are divided into groups of no more than three and they are asked to share a computer. We then make use of Channel’s 4 interactive video “Two billion miles”. In the video, students follow in the footsteps of migrants and refugees as they face the hardships of months on the road. They have the chance to choose their route, make tough decisions and watch as the outcome of their decisions comes to life. The video uses real footage and is very realistic. Allow 10 minutes for this, and let students start their journey from scratch if they wish and see what happens if they choose a different course of action. Each group can draw their route on a copy of a world map given to them at the beginning of the activity. Different groups of students compare the outcome of their journey.
If there is time left, we can ask them to find some basic facts about refugees in their country. They can check how many refugees there are in their country and in other European countries, their main countries of origins and which countries they mainly want to go to. Give students a couple of useful websites they can find the information in, such as Amnesty International or the unhcr.org website to facilitate the research. Allow 5-10 minutes for a quick search.