Well, Bill Easterley has a blog. Which is good.
Though it turns out he doesn’t much like simulation games. Or the Davos World Economic Forum. Or simulation games about refugees. Or invitations to simulation games about refugees sent to Davos participants. Or something.
What do you think of the Davos rich and powerful going through the “Refugee Run” theme park re-enactment of life in a refugee camp?
Can Davos man empathize with refugees when he or she is not in danger and is going back to a luxury banquet and hotel room afterwards? Isn’t this just a tad different from the life of an actual refugee, at risk of all too real rape, murder, hunger, and disease?
Did the words “insensitive,” “dehumanizing,” or “disrespectful” (not to mention “ludicrous”) ever come up in discussing the plans for “Refugee Run”?
I hope such bad taste does not reflect some inability in UNHCR to see refugees as real people with their own dignity and rights.
TEAR Australia (and especially the people of TEAR’s southern Sydney support group) had a hand in shaping the simulation event (it’s not a theme park, Bill – sheesh, read the invitation properly) that is being run there. Though I should emphasise we had nothing to do with it being run in Davos. That is all the work of Crossroads in Hong Kong, taking it global!
But, unlike the majority of Easterley’s commenters – who seem also to have drunk his elixir of curmudgeonliness – I can’t see it is a bad thing. Sure, if it is run as a piece of party entertainment for the world’s elite, then obviously that is a bad thing. Knowing the Crossroads mob, though, that won’t be the case.
I’ve been involved in running that particular simulation many, many times in Australia. And it never failed to challenge people’s prejudices about refugees, and raise awareness of their plight and empathy for them as people. Like all simulations it captures only partially the experience it simulates. (Though why this counts against it for some of Easterley’s commenters is beyond me. Nothing apart from being a refugee would fully represent the experience of being a refugee to someone who has not been through that tragedy, but a well-handled simulation can raise awareness, generate empathy, and pose challenging questions. I suspect most of the commenters aren’t teachers and don’t recognise the value of this kind of activity that blends cognitive and affective learning and reflection.)
The relevant questions to ask are, does the simulation prompt participants to think more deeply about the issues it raises? Does it make them more or less likely to understand and empathise with the real, lived experiences of refugees? Does it make them more or less likely to take constructive action in support of some of the world’s most vulnerable people?
I have seen the Refugee Run simulation challenge the prejudices many people in Australia, particularly at a time when the political and social environment was hostile towards refugees and asylum seekers. Refugee friends of mine often helped run the simulation and spoke about their experiences during the debriefing sessions, which was extraordinarily powerful. Many participants became involved in supporting refugees and asylum-seekers after going through the simulation.
I’m glad that participants at Davos (and the general public too!) have the chance to go through it. The Wall Street Journal actually checked out the event, and on the basis of the experience, have a much more positive take. It would have been nice if Bill Easterley hadn’t so snidely dismissed it on the basis of the invitation alone.
You can check out the simulation here and decide for yourself if it could be a powerful consciousness-raising tool or merely cheap thrills.