Until recently, I have never been to a refugee camp, although like most of us, I have seen and heard the typical stories and images of refugee camps from TV, movies and the like. It wasn’t until last weekend that I actually saw firsthand what it was like (well, could be like).
I saw the common circumstances that brings people to these camps (wars, natural disasters), the vulnerability of each of them (from the people to the animals, predators, climate and weather), how they found shelter, food, water, medicine, and how even small common illnesses are able to kill them mainly due to their weaker immune systems - attributed to the lifestyle and environment which they lived in.
Nevertheless, all is not lost, as for some it is through organisations such as Medecins Sans Frontieres Australia (Doctors Without Borders) that they are still alive and living in better conditions today.
Now I didn’t actually visit a real refugee camp in another country, just a simulated version that was held by the MSF (Medecins Sans Frontieres) where they were staging the "Refugee Camp in Your City" event in Melbourne (held from Saturday 3 October to Sunday 11 October 2009). I went through the tour of the camp as I wanted to gain an understanding of what it would be like as a refugee. This event has been staged around the world and where participants are guided through a simulated environment with an example of a refugee camp and facilities.
Something that I believe I also learnt was the key differences between internally displaced person (IDP), refugee, and asylum seeker, as I saw them primarily as quite similar terms. It wasn’t until attending this camp that I understood the differences and I will quote the differences from their website for you.
- IDP: People who have fled for safety within the borders of their home countries are officially considered internally displaced persons or IDPs.
- Refugee: A refugee is someone 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 and is unable to, or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.”
- Asylum seeker: An asylum seeker is someone who has fled their own country and applies to the government of another country for protection as a refugee.
The simulated refugee camps were also held in Adelaide although they have packed up now. MSF is working on a great cause and seem to have great strategies and volunteers taking part in addressing this vital issue around the world. Particularly where many of these individuals are displaced as a result of wars rather than natural disasters, as in many of these cases, these situations could have been avoided had man not taken the action man has, due to greed, revenge, etc.
For more information on this program and the organisation that held it, you can visit: http://www.msf.org.au/