November 29, 2019 – From November 9 to 14, 2019, the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Canada team hosted its simulation exercise “A Journey in Exile” three times in three different locations. The exercise is a role-playing experience that puts participants in the shoes of a refugee. Participants have decisions to make, challenges to overcome. The purpose of the exercise is to sensitize the participants to the real experiences of refugees. As the exercise progresses, we read real testimonies from people who’ve been forcibly displaced from their country. Here are a few words the last three experiences of “A Journey in Exile”.
Centre francophone du Grand Toronto
On Saturday, November 9th, we hosted the exercise at the Centre francophone du Grand Toronto (a social centre for French-speaking immigrants). About forty people of various ages participated, most of whom were immigrants, though not refugees. Afterwards, they expressed their great appreciation of the exercise. Though they knew what it was like to be an economic immigrant to Canada, they learned a little bit of what it would be like to forcibly leave their country. They were very adamant in expressing their compassion for such people. It was touching to see that new Canadians could appreciate so much this solidarity exercise.
Loyola High School
We also went to Loyola High School to facilitate our exercise with secondary 5 (grade 11) students. Students appreciated the decision-making moments in the exercise (for example, should I go to a far away, rich country or just a neighbouring country?), despite the fact that there were often no good options to be taken. During the review session of the experience, we invited a refugee who was sponsored by JRS, George Tomeh, to come and share about his experience. He talked about his exile from Syria, having lived in Lebanon for several months before being sponsored to come to Canada. At the end of the review, we asked students to think about possible initiatives to respond to the global migration crisis. One student gave a wonderful answer: “In your daily life, be as welcoming as possible, at all times.”
Villeray Cultural Day
Finally, the Villeray cultural day in Montreal on Nov. 14 was the context for our third round of “A Journey into Exile”. Members of several organizations that work with immigrants and refugees participated. They were very satisfied with the experience. Some of them have already had experience working with refugees. For them, this exercise brought back the memories of the extreme hardships they witnessed in their work. Though it was not an easy experience for some, they all were very thankful for this work and even asked if we could run the exercise in their organizations. More opportunities ahead!
If you haven’t had the experience of exile from your country, you can never truly know what it means to be a refugee. But this fact does not prevent us from having other experiences that put us in solidarity with those who have to flee their country to find safety