Local agencies host ‘Refugee Camp in the City’

It’s tough for North Americans in general to keep in mind that masses of people are trapped in cycles of poverty and often have to flee their homes in search of food, shelter and safety.

But organizers of the third annual Refugee Camp in the City, which was held last week on the grounds of Central School, want to make sure that refugees, and the trials they endure, aren’t ignored or forgotten.

The event, which attracted more than 500 students and members of the public, was organized by the Central Alberta Refugee Effort, Catholic Social Services, the Canadian Red Cross and the Central Albert AIDS Network Society.

Other organizations were onhand as well to spread the word about their missions to make a concrete difference in the lives of refugees.

According to the UN Refugee Agency, every minute eight people leave everything behind to escape war, persecution or terror.

“I want people to leave here today with awareness about what refugees go through and are going through,” said Jan Underwood, public cultural awareness coordinator of the Central Alberta Refugee Effort (C.A.R.E).

“We’re trying to give people an experiential situation where they are being treated like refugees, so a lot of interactive things happen here.”

Visitors make their way through a number of stations where they learn about what food and water distribution would look like at a refugee camp. They also learned about how the Red Cross works to reunite families, and about education for children in these camps as well.

Questions like ‘will I be safe’, ‘what will I eat and how do I find water’, ‘can I get medical care and where will I live’ were at the centre of the many discussions.

Information about the local organizations that work with refugees who settle in Red Deer was also made available.

Underwood said the event’s first year saw about 150 people go through the site. Last year, about 400 attended. “This year we have over 500 students registered and people have come from as far away as Three Hills. Sometimes we get people from Calgary and Edmonton, too.”

She added that many teachers who bring students talk about what they’ve learned in subsequent classes. “Kids are amazed at some of the information that we give them,” she said, citing examples such as allotting refugees only about five litres of water a day in a typical camp. Canadians, in contrast, generally use about 340 litres per day each, she said. “That shocks people. They are also amazed at the amount of food refugees are given. It’s very little and it’s basic.” There is usually no meat, vegetables or fruit provided, for example. “Basically, you are on survival mode and it’s going to be the same thing everyday.”

Millions of people around the world could fit into the category of being refugees. War-torn countries where there is also persecution of some type often see families seeking for safer regions to live in. “People end up homeless. And there are homeless people here in Red Deer. It’s a different situation, but they are still homeless.”

The Central Alberta Refugee Effort committee was formed in 1979 by a group of citizens who wanted to assist with the settlement of Indochinese refugees fleeing the aftermath of the Vietnam war. In 1980, C.A.R.E. became a registered non-profit society, and in 1982 it received status as a charitable organization.

“My passion for this comes from meeting people who are refugees,” said Underwood. “It’s knowing them and working alongside them. Knowing them – their stories and their histories — makes all the difference. They’ve overcome so much and they still have hope that things are going to get better.”

For more information about Refugee Camp in the City or related topics, call the C.A.R.E. office at 403-346-8818.