|Syrian refugees arrive in early May at a camp on the border in Royashed, Jordan. Catholic Charities of Tennessee will host “Seeking Refuge: Forced to Flee,” a refugee camp simulation, at the Catholic Pastoral Center on Saturday, Jan. 21. The U.S. Catholic Church celebrates National Migration Week Jan. 8-14. CNS photo/Jamal Nasrallah, EPA|
People are being invited to walk in the shoes of a refugee through the “Seeking Refuge: Forced to Flee” refugee camp simulation, sponsored by Catholic Charities of Tennessee, its Office of Refugee and Immigration Services and the Tennessee Office for Refugees.
“This is the first time our Catholic Charities has ever done something like this,” said Aimee Shelide Mayer, advocacy and social concerns coordinator for the agency. “It’s such a hot button issue, people are interested in learning more.”
The refugee camp simulation will be held 9 a.m. to noon Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017, at the Catholic Pastoral Center on McGavock Pike in Nashville. It is free, but free-will donations will be accepted to pay for an optional lunch.
The simulation will follow the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ National Migration Week, Jan. 8-14, held to honor and celebrate migrants and refugees and bring attention to their plight.
The Mass readings during the Christmas season include the story of the Holy Family fleeing to Egypt to escape King Herod’s wrath, Mayer said. The church points to them as examples of refugees fleeing violence, “which is what the life of a refugee is all about,” she added.
For National Migration Week, the USCCB distributes suggested prayers, intercessions, bulletin blurbs and homily resources, Mayer said. “I thought I would love to invite people into an interactive experience. A simulation can be a more transformative experience than simply reading or hearing about a situation, she added.
She turned to Catholic Charities’ Office of Refugee Services for help and they showed her a simulation developed by the Catholic Charities office in Louisville, Ky., Mayer said.
During the simulation, refugee families, played by simulation participants, will visit seven stations designed to give participants a glimpse of the journey a refugee travels toward resettlement.
The first station is a border crossing, where the refugee family leaves their home country due to threats of violence and persecution.
From there, the participants go to a registration station, where they are given a form in Spanish and asked to fill it out in English without any translation guides.
Other stations include: a health center where they are checked for illnesses; a nutrition center where they receive food and water rations; school where they have to learn seven words in another language; jail, where they are sent for not following camp rules or not proceeding through a border crossing in a timely manner; and finally the UN High Commission on Refugees, which will determine if they have been accepted or rejected for resettlement.
Each of the stations will be manned by staff members of the Refugee Services Office and Tennessee Office for Refugees, many of whom have been refugees themselves, Mayer said.
The simulation is designed to take a long time and be frustrating, reflecting the fact that many refugees can spend as many has 10 years in a camp before being resettled, Mayer said. “They say no one can go through the simulation in less than an hour,” she said.
“Will try to provide both the experience and education,” Mayer said. The simulation will end with a debriefing and a speaker who was a refugee, she said.
There also will be an invitation to act, whether it is writing a letter to a legislator or volunteering with Refugee Services. “There are lots of ways to get involved,” Mayer said. “We’ll showcase those opportunities.”
Catholic Charities will be promoting the simulation during National Migration Week and inviting people to participate the following Saturday, Mayer said.
For more information about the simulation or to find out how to register online, contact Emily Sellers at at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-259-3567, ext. 1199.