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Another Voice: Lessons learned from a refugee simulation hit home

By Robert Poczik

A small group at Nativity Church in Clarence established a Refugee, Immigrant and Migrant Ministry. I recently participated in a Refugee Simulation that focused on those who have been forced to flee their homes because of war, violence or persecution, often without warning.

The session provided experiential learning for approximately 50 individuals, a number of whom were youth, to help us better understand these “people on the move.” Working in small groups representing members of refugee families, we moved from place to place in the large room that represented stages of travel that Syrian refugees experienced in flight from Syria to Turkey to Greece.

At each stage of the journey, we as refugees had to make difficult decisions about which objects we had carried with us from our homes needed to be jettisoned due to injuries along the way and forms of transportation we were forced to use, including small boats to cross the Mediterranean from Turkey to Greece in cold, choppy water.

As we debriefed from the simulation, those present shared that it gave them a much better sense of the stresses and painful decisions and experiences of refugees who are forced to flee from their homes, community and country. In addition to leaving objects behind and along the way, refugees are forced to leave behind a sense of security and personal identity.

We learned that there are an estimated 25 million refugees in the world, living outside their home country. Many refugees live for years in camps in countries that surround the country they have been forced to leave behind. Countries that house large numbers of refugees include Turkey (3.7 million) and Germany (1.1 million).

Though I am proud of our country, I feel ashamed at the scant number of refugees the U.S. has admitted in recent years.  From a high of 230,000 in 1980, when Congress passed the Refugee Act, by 2019 a ceiling of 30,000 was set, the lowest since 1980. The number actually admitted was smaller yet – 22,491. In the month of October 2019, not a single refugee was admitted to the U.S.

To me, this change in policy is not because refugees pose any real danger to our country, nor because they become a costly burden. Refugees seek to learn English and to get right to work (most often taking jobs far below their level of education, credentials and work experience) and they contribute to local economies. We certainly have seen that in Buffalo and surrounding communities.

My plea is that you take time to learn more about refugees and then consider taking action. We, as a nation of immigrants and a country with great wealth, land, resources and infrastructure, can and should offer greater compassion and opportunities to those in such great need. 

Robert Poczik did volunteer work with Tibetan refugees in India and served in the New York State Education Department administering English as a second language programs for refugees and immigrants.

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