The first few minutes of Oxfam International (a “confederation of 13 organizations working together with over 3,000 partners in more than 100 countries to find lasting solutions to poverty and injustice“)’s new exhibit seem normal enough: multimedia presentations detailing refugee experiences, timelines of various conflicts, and lots of photos. Suddenly, however, things drastically change—the model house you are standing in seems to be under attack!
While some group members hide, you and a few others escape into what appears to be a jungle of sorts. Still in disbelief at this turn of events, you stumble on into what looks like a desert… full of land mines. You successfully avoid the explosions and make it to a border crossing. The guards hassle your group ruthlessly, you get pulled aside for questioning, but, finally, after what seems like an eternity, they allow you into the country.
Just beyond the border is a refugee camp where you are told you will be able to stay temporarily. At the entrance you register and formally ask the government for asylum… unreality hits—you are a refugee, no home, no nationality, and most likely not even a complete family.
Freaky right? To be honest I’m not sure I would be able to deal with it. But according to the project’s director Stephanie Cousins, that is the desired effect;
“The idea in this space is to give people a sense of how unsettling it would feel fleeing in a dangerous setting where they can’t be sure of their footing. It’s based on the true stories of former refugees now living in Australia.”
The exhibit, entitled, “Refugee Realities”, debuted this past week in Melbourne, Australia, as an effort by Oxfam to raise awareness of the plight of refugees across the globe.
When I think of international conflict, I immediately imagine scenes from “Hotel Rwanda,” with children crying, tempers flaring, food and water shortages, and the constant fear of discovery. Like me, you probably breathed a sigh of relief at the end of the movie when Paul, his wife, and their nieces boarded a bus out of Rwanda.
But, as the Oxfam exhibit points out, often the thousands of people displaced by international conflicts leave one abusive situation for another that is only slightly better. The camp set up is inspired by conditions of camps in Burma, Pakistan, Sudan, and Kenya where, according to Oxfam, refugees spend an average of 17 years.
Leaving the theater following “Hotel Rwanda”, my intense sense of anger at injustice quickly turned to feelings of helplessness. While following Rwanda, the world vowed “never again” to stand by in silence, Darfur has revealed the emptiness of such promises. Unfortunately, if genocide is not enough to get international governments to take action, refugee issues hardly seem to stand a chance.
Such attitudes motivate groups like Oxfam Australia (a subsidiary of Oxfam International) to turn to the public. Using interactive educational exhibits such as Refugee Realities, Oxfam hopes to mobilize current and future generations to fight for rights of the marginalized and displaced.
As of the time of this posting, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) places the number of refugees world wide at 9.9 million.
Check out these ways in which you can take action:
Feeling adventurous? Not sure what to do this summer? Volunteer in a Liberian Refugee Camp through the global volunteer network.
State-side, check out the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants to help refugees resettle into your locality.
Raise awareness in your community with Refugees International.
For more ideas, check out the rest of Oxfam International’s activities.