Abstract: The Refugee Camp Tour provides valuable education and incites critical reflection of the current practices of asylum seekers and refugees whilst engaging on an emotional level.

The Refugee Camp in my Neighborhood is an interactive tour of a simulated refugee camp hosted by Auburn and Cumberland Council. The guided tours are conducted by former refugees and asylum seekers. This created a much more real experience for participants, as the whole tour was told through real life stories from the stark perspective of those that survived. There are multiple groups of ‘refugee’ participants rotating through the various stations of the refugee camp, supporting the perpetuated reality of seeking asylum. The first station we entered was a room filled with definitions and statistics about refugees and asylum seekers and we were given the opportunity to process and relay the facts displayed.

Next, we were shuffled into a dark room where we listened in silence to an audio recording of personal accounts explain what forced refugees to leave their countries. Examples included attacks by militia and the fear of persecution. There were also sounds of gunshots, people screaming and crying. We were then asked to write down five belongings that we would take while fleeing the country.

Then we experienced perhaps one of the most confronting aspects of the tour, which was being searched by border security. There was also a guard shouting in foreign incomprehensible language. The guard was an intimidating character as he stood aggressively waving a stick, conducted invasive searches and ordered people around, taking valuable belongings away from individuals.

This ordeal was followed by our entry into the refugee camp, which contained a series of information stalls ranging from the assessment/ legal process, medical infrastructure (or lack thereof), food rations and mock tents. We learnt some horrifying facts that the approximate time spent in a camp is fourteen years and that only one antenatal check may be performed for each pregnant woman with ‘hygiene’ (a bar of soap) as a priority to reduce the spread of disease. We were informed that there is a form to complete in order to receive basic food rations, which are only available in Arabic and if not completed correctly inhibit access to food.  All forms were not translated or available in other languages and assistance was not provided to facilitate completion. The mock-up of the tents demonstrated the overall lack of privacy and cramped conditions, which did not provide much protection from the weather. Additionally it demonstrated the unhygienic conditions that provide a breeding ground for disease.

The next stop for us, was to experience seeking refuge in another country without legitimate status. This demonstrated to us what it could be like to experience, the terror of getting caught, of persecution, of being restricted in finding accommodation and employment. We walked through a maze of questions and answers, which lead to various different outcomes based on the path chosen. An option we read, was whether to work under exploitative conditions in order to purchase an airfare or wait until dark to flee to another place. Most of us going through the maze were caught and placed back in detention or refugee camps whilst a minority were successfully granted refuge in another country.

We were then cramped into a dark narrow space on crates, to simulate the passage some refugees experience on a boat. Footage was projected of refugees making their journey in traitorous conditions. Also projected to us were experiences of death, drowning, illness and finally being caught by border patrol. Then various letters and artworks were exhibited including those drawn and written by children. A chilling memory for me, was an image depicting both rape and death side by side, which was drawn by a child.

Lastly we experienced first hand an example of the injustice of the overall system, as a handful of us were handed Medicare cards and given confirmed status whilst the majority were left in limbo without access to services. In an adjoining room there was another common refugee experience where you could attend an appointment with a woman who spoke little to no English, who scolded participants for being late whilst waving paperwork in the air, and who then sent us away without consultation.

To conclude the tour, an evaluation was conducted where participants wrote comments and messages around the walls and finally a debriefing with staff. The whole experience was an eye opener with invaluable insight into the unbearable conditions, torture and trauma that refugees face. As a worker in the community sector, it highlighted the importance of humanity, inclusiveness, Human Rights and Trauma Informed practice. The Refugee Camp Tour is highly recommended for all.

If you would like to experience this for yourself more details can be found here.