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Think Critically about Refugees

This activity has been designed to help young people think critically about the topic of refugees and people who are forced to flee from conflict and disaster.

Outline

The plight of refugees is a controversial issue. Citizens and politicians hold strong and frequently conflicting views. The purpose of these activities therefore, is to ask young people to think critically about the evidence, challenge their own assumptions and reach judgements based on the evidence.

The activities first ask young people to apply international law in a series of scenarios to develop their understanding of the term ‘refugee’ and then to question their own assumptions about where refugees are coming from and where they are going to. The conclusions they reach may influence their future decisions about taking action.

The global statistics used in this resource were compiled by the UNHCR in 2014. Statistics go out of date quickly and refugee movements are volatile. But the global trends illustrated here remain true. The paradox is that, while Europe is experiencing its greatest refugee crisis since World War 2, the vast majority of people forced to flee seek safety in less economically developed countries. According to Oxfam, the world’s 6 richest countries host only 9% of the world’s refugees. On the other hand half of the world’s refugees are hosted by Jordan, Turkey, the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Pakistan, Lebanon and South Africa, whose economies add up to only 2% of global GDP1 .

Learning Objectives
  • Deepen an understanding of ‘refugee status’ by applying international law in a number of scenarios.
  • Use existing knowledge to suggest where the world’s largest refugee populations come from and where they move to.
  • Use the results of these activities to question assumptions and improve their understanding of the refugee crisis.
Resource
  • Who is a refugee? Card sort activity.
  • Where do refugees come from and where do refugees go to? Card sort activity.
  • Where do refugees come from and where do refugees go to? Answer sheet.
Key Words

Refugee, United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, United Nations Refugee Convention, the UNHCR.

Sources of Data

The following sources provide regular up-to-date statistics which may be used to update this activity.

  1. UNHCR – The UN Refugee Agency - http://www.unhcr.org/.
  2. The International Organisation for Migration - http://www.iom.int/. The IOM produces regular Situation Reports providing up to date information from crisis-affected locations. In addition the ‘Where We’re From’ interactive map illustrates trends in global migration https://www.iom.int/world-migration.
  3. Frontex – The European Union border agency - http://frontex.europa.eu/.

Teachers notes

1. Who is a refugee?

Eleanor Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of US President Franklin D Roosevelt, with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Spain, 1949. (Credit: "EleanorRooseveltHumanRights" by Unknown - Franklin D Roosevelt Library website. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons: http://bit.ly/2ekNRpt)

Modern international humanitarian law was introduced following the vast human rights abuses and humanitarian crises in the period of World War 2 and is overseen by the United Nations. Under international humanitarian law countries are obliged to protect refugees who are on their territory. However, a person has to meet specific criteria to be formally recognised as a refugee.

1. The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, 1948

Article 14.
Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy asylum from persecution in other countries.

2. The United Nations Refugee Convention, 1951, defines a refugee as:

"A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality…”

3. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)

The UNHCR was set up to protect and support refugees. In 2012 the UNHCR had a budget of US $4.3 billion.

Task
  1. Cut up the Who is a refugee? cards, one set for each sub-group of young people.
  2. Ask the young people to review the definitions of a refugee (see above).
  3. The young people in sub-groups go through each card one at a time and decide if the person described on the card would qualify for formal refugee status under international law or not.
  4. When they have finished sorting the cards share the answers below.
  5. Discuss any surprising or controversial outcomes. Has the young people’s knowledge of international humanitarian law changed?
A person who has been charged with a serious crime in their own country and has escaped from the police. Not a refugee
A person who is persecuted because s/he is gay. Possibly a refugee (the definition is vague)
A person whose place of worship is burnt down by religious extremists from the country’s majority religion. A refugee
A person escaping extreme poverty. Not a refugee
A person harassed by the police because of her/his ethnicity. A refugee
A person whose home has been destroyed by an earthquake. Not a refugee
A person sacked from their job and arrested because they campaigned for freedom of speech. A refugee
A person forced to leave her or his home because of climate change making sea levels rise. Not a refugee (despite the term ‘climate refugee’)
2. Where do refugees come from and where do they go?

This activity asks young people to question their assumptions about current movements of refugees around the room. It is designed to test the degree to which their assumptions and received knowledge reflect the reality and then to question the degree to which this matters. There is a note about data sources in the outline of the activity above.

Task
  • Divide the group into sub-groups.
  • Ask each subgroup to make two lists based on what they know or think already.
    1. List 1: The top 10 countries in the world refugees come from with approximate numbers.
    2. List 2: The top 10 countries in the world refugees go to with approximate numbers.
  • Time permitting, ask sub-groups to share some of their ideas (their top two or three) but do not pass judgment on their suggestions. Merely draw attention to differences and then set the lists to one side.
  • Cut up the Where to refugees come from and where do they go? cards, one set for each sub-group of young people. There are 40 cards altogether; 20 country names and 20 numbers. As the cards are small it is advisable to print this resource on A3 paper.
  • Ask the young people to sort the country names and numbers into two lists.
    1. List 1: The top 10 countries in the world refugees come from with the numbers.
    2. List 2: The top 10 countries in the world refugees go to with the numbers.
  • Provide the answers sheets. Ask the sub-groups to compare their first lists, their lists using the cards and the answers. What do they notice? What are the main differences in their three sets of figures? Are the young people surprised by any of the differences? What are the main conclusions they can draw?
  • Key information: In 2014, 25,000 people applied for refugee status in the UK, and in 2015 the number was 32,400. This places the global statistics in context.
3. Plenary

Ask the sub groups to suggest one main conclusion each from doing the activity. Write these on the board.

What is the key learning to take away about where refugees come from and where they go to? Are the wealthy countries of Europe the main destination for refugees? What implications does this have for how we support refugees at a global level?

For further background to the topic, download the SFYouth resource ‘Think Critically About Refugees – Additional Background Information’.

Who is a refugee?

A person who has been charged with a serious crime in their own country and has escaped from the police. A person who is persecuted because s/he is gay.
A person whose place of worship is burnt down by religious extremists from the country’s majority religion. A person escaping extreme poverty.
A person harassed by the police because of her/his ethnicity. A person whose home has been destroyed by an earthquake.
A person sacked from their job and arrested because they campaigned for freedom of speech. A person forced to leave her or his home because of climate change making sea levels rise.

Where do refugees come from and where do they go?

Afghanistan 2,556,522 Pakistan 1,616,495
Syria 2,468,341 Iran 857,352
Somalia 1,121,692 Lebanon 856,259
Sudan 649,285 Jordan 641,894
Congo DR 499,499 Turkey 609,911
Myanmar 479,591 Kenya 534,920
Iraq 401,362 Chad 634,461
Colombia 396,614 Ethiopia 433,933
Vietnam 314,069 China 301,045
Eritrea 307,966 USA 263,618

Statistics from UNHCR, 2014

Where do refugees come from and where do they go? Answer Sheet

Where refugees come from? (Top 10 countries)

1 Afghanistan 2,556,522
2 Syria 2,468,341
3 Somalia 1,121,692
4 Sudan 649,285
5 Congo DR 499,499
6 Myanmar 479,591
7 Iraq 401,362
8 Colombia 396,614
9 Vietnam 314,069
10 Eritrea 307,966

Where do refugees go? (Top 10 countries)

1 Pakistan 1,616,495
2 Iran 857,352
3 Lebanon 856,259
4 Jordan 641,894
5 Turkey 609,911
6 Kenya 534,920
7 Chad 634,461
8 Ethiopia 433,933
9 China 301,045 
10 USA 263,618

Statistics from UNHCR, 2014

References:
1Oxfam (2016) – A Poor Welcome From the World’s Wealthy.