Giving visitors a first-hand glimpse of what life in a refugee camp would be like, the Refugee Camp in the City is set for June 20th in the parking lot across from the Kinnex Arena (4725 – 43 St.) The event runs from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Hosted by the Central Alberta Refugee Effort (C.A.R.E.), the event helps local residents learn about life in a refugee camp beginning from registration to resettlement including food and water distribution, education and health care. There is no cost to attend, and everyone is welcome.
“The Refugee Camp started three years ago,” explains Jan Underwood, public awareness coordinator with C.A.R.E. “Prior to that CARE and Catholic Social Services had always co-hosted an event to commemorate World Refugee Day.
“I researched a similar one put on by Doctors Without Borders all over the world. Theirs was much bigger and involved a lot more people so at first I didn’t think it was possible to do the same thing in Red Deer, or whether it would be of interest to the Red Deer community,” she said. “But after speaking to a settlement worker Mohammed Idriss in Brooks who put on a smaller version there which was successful, I decided to do one here.”
Each successive year, more and more people have attended Refugee Camp in the City to learn about the plight of the world’s refugees. So much of what they have to endure is unimaginable, and it’s important to raise awareness about the issues, said Underwood.
She said that in the first year, 250 people attended. Last year, 700 participated.
“Most are students but we aim to attract more members of the public each year.”
She said that one change organizers have made this year is in the connection to the settlement agencies in Red Deer and Central Alberta which in prior years were displays only.
“This year we have included a resettlement station at which people are told how they must apply for resettlement so they are actually learning about the process, what it takes to apply and how long the process is.”
There is much for folks to learn and to be challenged by as they move through the site.
“We hope that people walk away with a raised awareness about the plight of the 40 million refugees in the world and an increased empathy and compassion towards refugees especially those who are being resettled here in Central Alberta,” she said.
“We believe that by offering a simulation of a camp situation, in which people take on the ID of a refugee, that this will personalise the experience and make it seem more real and have relevance for everyone.”
As Underwood explains, being a participant is more meaningful and impactful then simply being handed information.
“One of our goals is that ultimately people will be more accepting of refugees with less pre-conceived ideas and misassumptions and more knowledge and awareness, and will become even more welcoming, open and friendly.”
On the world stage these days, the situations refugees find themselves in remain as horrendous as ever.
“In most cases their situations are still as difficult with not enough food, water, adequate shelter or activities,” said Underwood. “Some camps are overflowing with over 100,000 people. In others they are fortunate to have access to limited employment and education.”
And the hardships continue, in other ways, once refugees arrive in new countries and try to adjust.
“Starting a new life is never easy. Income is minimal. Many have to learn a new language. Adapting to new cultural ways, finding employment, fitting in, building new friendships and relationships takes a lot of effort and time,” said Underwood. “In Red Deer settlement services are offered by Catholic Social Services and Central Alberta Refugee Effort, together known as the Immigrant Centre.
“Sometimes people here think that as soon as a person arrives in Canada that their life is instantly better, but it takes a long period of resettlement and readjustment which can be really challenging,” said Underwood. “Of course they are happy to be in a place of safety and peace, but they may be separated from family members, anxious about the situation back home, lacking language skills and unable to communicate, and experiencing unbelievable levels of culture shock.”
For more information about Refugee Camp in the City, check out www.immigrant-centre.ca.