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"Fleeing for Your Life" - Refugee Role Play


"Fleeing for Your Life" - Refugee Role Play

NOTE: As the Activity Leader, you should be sensitive to the fact that several of the participants in your group will actually be refugees and may have lived through a similar experience.

Objective: Students will stimulate a refugee's experience and by doing so be made of the related emotional, political, and economic consequences. They will think about refugees as real human beings who have something to offer to their new communities.


  • Participant identities (see below)
  • Copy of role-play scenario (adapted to incorporate students' own experienes)
  • Paper and markers
  • United States Map

Part One

1. Each participant is given an identity and family group number. (See identities below). They should select the paper with their identity form a bag at the beginning of the activity,

2. Set up the following scenario:

Citizens of the state of Wisconsin, wanting more land for their people, have invaded Minnesota. Entering the state through Hudson, the Wisconsinites have taken control of the Capitol Building in St. Paul and the police and National Guard throughout the state. There are snipers in the skyways and the Mall of America has been blown up. I-94 has been closed. The Wisconsinites have taken over the Metrodome and are using it as a staging ground for their troops. You have heard rumors that the invaders are going to be going door to door, and unless you can prove that you were born in Wisconsin, you will be arrested and taken to an undisclosed location. Fighting has begun in the Twin Cities and is spreading into the suburbs and rural towns across the state. You can hear the fighting around your house. Mobs of Wisconsinites are roaming the streets and have set fire to your neighbor’s house. You realize that you must flee Minnesota tonight. You have two hours to pack your belongings. Because all of the roads are blocked, you must leave by foot, so you should only pack what you can carry. You must head toward a refugee camp in Iowa or North Dakota.

3. Have the students take out a pad of paper and write down the ten items that they would bring with them, based on who their identity is. They have two minutes to decide. They should write it in large letters so that they can share it with others.

4. For five minutes, break the group down into the two family groups of 4-6 people each. These small family units must decide together what to bring. Each person can only carry three things. All the items recommended by everyone must be considered together, and then broken down into the three items each should carry.

5. Once five minutes have passed, tell the families they now have to decide where they will flee by foot, where they will sleep, etc. There are refugee camps in the surrounding states where they can stay.

6. Come back together and have each group make a presentation on what they decided to bring and whether they would go and how they would get there. Discussion questions:

  • Why did you choose the items? Why did you cut other items?
  • Did you choose items based on what you think you will need and /or what will help you remember your life back at home?
  • Do you think you could carry all of them?
  • Where did you decide to flee and why? How long should it take to get there?
  • Who had the most say in the decision-making process? Why was that?
  • How do you feel about what is happening?

Part Two

7. Both of the families have now made it into refugee camps. Explain to the students that in the camps, the refugees themselves do a great deal of the work, handling a great many of the day-to-day responsibilities. Have each participant make two lists: a) what they think, based on their identity, they can offer to others in the camp; b) what their needs are from the relief workers in the camp.

8. Discuss with the participants what they can offer. Then discuss what their needs are, and whether they think relief workers can help them. This exercise gives the participants a more positive outlook on refugees; they think about refugees as real human beings who can offer something.

Part Three

Now the year is 2002. After spending two years in the refugee camp, the families have been safely resettled in a "third country"-in this case, Illinois-in the city of Chicago.

Reassign Family #1 and Family #2. They will now play the role of a family living in Chicago. The children of the family attend a small, diverse public school. New refugee families (the other families in the role play) have just been resettled in their neighborhood.

---Families #1 and #2 will play the role of host community. They should outline what they would do to welcome the new families. (They should be encouraged to include ideas at the individual, school and community level).

---The other families continue to play the role of the refugee. These students should list what they would do to work with the school and community and what their school and community could do to welcome them and to make their acclimation to Chicago easier.

---Compare the lists and discuss. -Is there anything that might be missing from the list? -How difficult or easy would it be for some of their suggestions to happen?

Conclusion: Look at the brainstorm from the preliminary discussion fo what a refugee is. Discuss with students how their view of refugees have changed since the beginning of the activity. If there aer refugee families living in your community, create a plan to implement suggestions that developed in this exercies.

This lesson plan is based on an excerpt from The Energy of a Nation: Immigrants in America, a 176-page curriculum and video packet created in 1997 by the B.I.A.S. Project (Building Immigrant Awareness and Support) of Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights. If you would like to order a copy of this exciting curriculum packet, please e-mail: [email protected].  If you would like additional resources on teaching on the complex issue of immigration, please contact Megan Powers, Education Program Director at Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights: [email protected]

Fleeing for Your Life - Refugee Identities

Copy and cut these identities into individual strips. Be sure to have one for each student in the class.

Family #1 Mother, stays at home with children, has skills in sewing and child care|
Family #1 Father, works as an electrical engineer
Family #1 Daughter, a college student majoring in psychology
Family #1 Son, 14 years old, likes to play soccer
Family #1 Son, 9 years old, has had health problems and needs constant medication

Family #2 Mother, works as a doctor/surgeon, specializes in obstetrics
Family #2 Father, works for The Star Tribune as a reporter on business issues, loves to cook
Family #2 Daughter, 12 years old, very studious, loves to read, in a wheelchair
Family #2 Daughter, 16 years old, wants to be an actress
Family #2 Daughter, 18 years old, computer whiz
Family #2 Grandmother, 75 years old, not able to walk easily, loves to tell stories

Family #3 Mother, divorced, works as a city bus driver
Family #3 Cousin (Male), 21 years old, college student staying with family while in school
Family #3 Son, 10 years old, loves to play basketball and play computer games.
Family #3 Son, 6 years old, likes animals
Family #3 Daughter, 9 months old, cries a lot

Family #4 Grandmother, 60 years old, teaches grade 5
Family #4 Grandfather, 65 years old, retired farmer
Family #4 Grandson, 12 years old, parents have died, loves to help his grandmother in the garden

Family #5 Father, dentist, likes to run
Family #5 Mother, English professor, also a runner
Family #5 Daughter, 13 years old (twin), good swimmer
Family #5 Daughter, 13 years old (twin), very athletic