Why Norwegian parents send their kids to simulated refugee camps

refugee-camp-children-compassionFor the refugees worldwide who’ve fled their home countries due to war and persecution, life in a refugee camp is often brutally hard and demoralizing. Moments of hope and dignity are fleeting while basic deprivations, chaos, and frustrations run rampant.

To instill in their own privileged children a more visceral and accurate sense of this suffering, Norwegian parents are doing something unusual: they’re sending their kids to simulated refugee camps. There, the Norwegian youth are subjected to poor access to food and water, extreme temperatures, loss of privacy, sleep deprivation, noise, confusing and frustrating bureaucratic processes, and various other harsh conditions common in refugee camps.

The core premise of these simulations is that compassion and empathy can be taught by direct experience of the hardships and indignities facing refugees, even if the true hopelessness, desperation, and uncertainties of refugee life can’t be replicated in a simulated setting in one 24-hour period. While the national practice has long been underway in Norway as a rite of passage into adulthood, it’s been attracting global attention recently along with coverage of the international refugee crisis and Norway’s own refugees policy.

The result? Kenneth Johansen, who runs an organization that offers the simulations in Norway, told The Washington Post that the simulated camps serve as a valuable reminder for many of the young participants of how lucky they are to live in a peaceful, stable country. Furthermore, he noted, “[w]e get feedback from the teens, and some of them say that the participation in the camp changed their opinion on some of the aspects around refugees.”

Given that the international debate on refugees could always use more public awareness and compassion for those seeking sanctuary, let’s hope this idea from Norway gains traction and inspires similar efforts. For more information, see “Norwegians send kids to fake refugee camps for lesson in empathy,” Global Citizen, and “Why Norwegian parents are sending their kids to live in fake refugee camps,” Washington Post.