2nd Peace as a Global Language Conference Proceedings & Supplement

The Global Refugee Crisis
Japanese Title: グローバル・リフジー・クライシス
by Kim Bradford-Watts
(Osaka Gakuin Univ., Kyoto Univ. of Foreign Studies, Kyoto Inst. of Technology, Kyoto Tachibana Womens' Univ., Ryukoku Univ.)

Japanese Abstract


Introducing complex issues about the global refugee crisis allows teachers and students to consider the nature of, and interrelationships between, a number of global issues. Information concerning the global refugee crisis can be presented to students of all ages and language proficiency levels. This lecture provided a brief discussion of some concerns, and suggestions for raising global refugee concerns in EFL classrooms. In this paper, teaching suggestions appear where relevant to the issues being described, and the focus on teaching for age levels from children to university-age reflects the interest expressed by session participants.

Keywords: Refugee concerns, global issues education, refugee awareness, global displacement


There are several compelling reasons for teaching refugee issues in foreign language classrooms. One reason is that about 45% of the world's twenty million or so refugees are in Asia (UNHCR, 2003). Morever, 2001 MEXT reforms stress the necessity of develop ing flexible and critical thinking abilities among Japanase, and improving their ability to understand and interact with the world around them. This article will point out ways that teaching about refugee issues can foster critical thinking skills, greater cultural understanding and an ability to discuss complex issues. Teaching about refugee issues is also timely: In the latest issue of Refugees, a magazine produced by the UNHCR, Wilkinson (2003) states that in UN donor countries:
[the] movement of real refugees, asylum seekers, economic migrants, the uncertainty of future terror attacks, the global reach of the [human] traffickers and smugglers, efforts by developed countries to tighten their border security and immigration procedures, combined to produce a volatile cocktail of apprehension, worry, and at times, xenophobia. (Wilkinson, 2003, p. 9)

After the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the USA accepted only 26,000 refugees for resettlement, vastly less than the 70,000 quota figure. These were also less than the 2000 figures, when the USA accepted 72,000 refugees for resettlement. Worldwide, the UNHCR recorded a 56% drop in refugee resettlement in 2001. Japan, not a country famous for accepting refugees, approved only 26 resettlements in 2001, as compared to 140 in 2000. Further terrorist activities will also, therefore, adversely influence responses to refugees seeking resettlement, as well as to responses to developing crises.
The role that the UN is playing in terms of refugee "protection" is changing due to pressures from donor countries, and debate continues as to the status of internally displaced persons within the framework of the UNHCR. The nature of conflict has also changed in the post-cold war era, and responses in neighboring "safe" countries are even less enthusiastic than previously. The UNHCR, and increasingly, other NGOs, are finding their field of operation not outside, but in, zones of conflict, now making them targets of terrorist acts.
Furthering the role of "protectors", agencies now believe that relief and development should be pursued simultaneously, and are thus also funding and enabling both programs for development, such as vaccination programs for refugee children, and programs for post conflict repatriation, reintegration, rehabilitation and reconstruction. These "4R's" are, according to Wilkinson (2003), "intended to eliminate one of the most problematic and persistent faultlines in humanitarian operations – the gap in many operations between emergency assistance provided by organizations such as UNHCR and funds to launch and sustain long-term development" (p 14). Thus, these kinds of programs both prepare and encourage refugees to return home and, with support, to rebuild their lives.

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The following are brief descriptions of just some of the issues that may be incorporated into lessons about the world refugee crisis. They are not presented in any specific order, as each has links to the others. Each will vary according to the particular crisis selected for study, and generalizations cannot be made at any level, even between populations in refugee camps established in the same region during the same crisis.

Teaching about refugees

The UNHCR site has a number of resources, for example the Lego poster series (UNHCR., 1994-1997), geared toward teaching children about refugees, and promoting empathy with those who are forced to leave their homes. These can also be adapted for use with older students. A unit for children would certainly not incorporate much more than the fact that some people leave their homes because they are afraid, sometimes going to refugee camps or other countries to be safe. If teaching children, stories and pictures of children's lives in a refugee camp, like Kakuma camp in Kenya, can lead to a discussion of types of games, types of food and food preparation methods, schooling, and other areas of interest to children. The objective is to learn about real people in other parts of the world, and how, although some things are different, people are just like us no matter where they live. Teachers need to ensure that children can voice their fears, be assured, and discuss places that are safe for children. On the UNHCR site there are also stories and pictures of people engaged in activities in camps and animals of the region created by refugee children, and these can be used for vocabulary building, art projects, and story-telling in class.

Definition and causes

Except when teaching children, it is important to begin any teaching about refugees by clarifying the definition of refugee under international conventions, and the implications of being granted refugee status. Using this definition, students can begin to formulate an understanding of the various problems experienced by displaced populations under study. They can then explore the "push" factors of persecution and conflict that lead individuals and groups to abandon homes and livelihoods in search of safety.
People may be given status as refugees if they have crossed an international border and face "credible fear of persecution" if they return home. However, in the event of large numbers of people fleeing over an international border quickly and in large numbers, they are often given status as prima facie refugees, which generally leaves them with no papers, limiting mobility and the ability to seek employment outside the refugee camp, and so, effectively, confining them to the area of the camp.
Internally displaced persons (IDPs) have fled their homes, but have not crossed an international border, so are not guaranteed the same protections as those who have crossed an international border. The UNHCR is attempting to expand its role as a protector to IDPs, but successful cases of such interventions have been limited.
There are a number of areas in which human rights issues are of concern in the study of refugee issues: abuses lead to individuals, families or communities leaving homes and livelihoods, becoming displaced or refugees; may be experienced by those who have become displaced; may be experienced by refugees; and may be experienced in the process of, or as a result of, repatriation or resettlement. Successive experience of human rights abuse may force individuals or groups to flee repeatedly. Eastley (2004, pp. 15 - 21) presents two lesson plans aimed at raising awareness of human rights in EFL classes. These two lessons should be considered essential background for any students studying about the refugee crisis.
Education can be introduced as it relates to other human rights. The Right to Education is Article 26 of the Declaration of Human Rights. Implications of the Right to Education can be explored with respect to the breakdown of systems of education in warfare/complex emergencies, the provision of education in refugee camps, which may be sporadic, gendered, or withheld for political purposes, and the importance of education in community rehabilitation.
Issues affecting children may be discussed with respect to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, e.g. the effects on children of warfare and complex emergencies, as well as the experience of living as a refugee. Another related issue that can be addressed here is that of child soldiers.
There are a number of sites of conflict which may be explored in the study of refugee issues: conflicts leading to displacement of populations; conflict in and/or around areas settled by IDPs; conflict in and/or around refugee camps; and conflict in the process of, or upon, repatriation or resettlement. The effect of conflicts on supply of basic needs is particularly important in discussions which may arise about famine, depending on the case selected by teachers or learners, such as the Ethiopian famine in 1984, or those in Sudan in 1998 and 1999. Teachers need to ensure that students can access a large number of primary and secondary sources to become aware of the multiplicity of causes of conflict in any situation.
Teachers of junior high school age students can incorporate the definition of refugees, lessons about human rights, narratives of the journey from persecution, and artwork illustrating the narratives, into the curriculum through a case study of "The lost boys of Sudan" (www.unicef.org/sowc96/closboys.htm), and Kakuma camp in Kenya, otherwise known as "The Children's Camp" (UNHCR., n.d-e). The UNHCR website offers many primary materials suitable to learners of this age, relating to the journeys undertaken by the, mainly, boys from Sudan to the Kakuma camp. Such a unit may lead to the examination of other cases of human rights abuse, or to a discussion of ijime [bullying] in Japanese schools. Any unit focusing on this kind of subject matter will also satisfy calls by MEXT for incorporating "moral education" into the classroom.
In using a case study approach such as this, class members will learn empathy, human rights, critical analyses of the causes leading to children fleeing their homes, an awareness of the geography of a region, aspects of culture, such as games, food and food preparation methods, roles of children in the camps, education, and storytelling, possibly supported by art projects. This lesson could be conducted in a traditional classroom, but the possibility exists to use the CALL classroom for students to prepare and share multimedia presentations, in compliance with Point 2 (Establish a Learning Environment for the New Generation) of the first of the Seven Priority Strategies identified in The Rainbow Plan – The Education Reform Plan for the 21st Century, proposed to "improve classrooms in order to be able to conduct IT classes" (MEXT, 2001). All materials must, however, be selected with some sensitivity to the concerns that students may feel at this age, and activities should be designed to elicit such concerns and reassure students.

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The role of the UN and it's related organizations

Weiss & Collins (2000) define the role of the UN as "to maintain order in the international system of states while facilitating change for those states or people for whom the status quo is a life sentence of impoverishment or injustice" (p. 21). A course highlighting refugee issues can focus on any one of several areas, such as the study of the UN and its related organizations in response to political and economic shifts of power; the nature and development of the charters and conventions of the UN, including the 1946 Constitution of the International Refugee Organization, the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, the UN's developing role and history of peacekeeping/peace-building, and the UN's function in promoting human rights.

The nature and functions of various institutions, including NGO's

NGOs vary widely in size, scope and raison d'être, and tend to play the role of advocacy and solidarity for the IDPs and / or refugees. As can be seen in Table 1, the number of UNHCR partner NGOs increased dramatically in the period 1983 - 1995. The UNHCR currently has over 600 NGOs working as partners in various projects worldwide.

Table 1. Increase in UNHCR partner NGOs, 1983-1995. (Source: UNHCR, 1997).
Year 1983 1991 1993 1994 1995
International NGOs 30 72 127 124 128
Local NGOs 20 193 291 318 336

NGOs generally have a less hierarchical power structure than UN and government-sponsored organizations. They are often involved in both development and emergency operations, remaining in areas of conflict when international organizations pull out. They are often also a source of "first contact" information for international organizations. Table 2 lists some of the major international UNHCR partner NGOs.

Table 2. Major international UNHCR partner NGOs. (Adapted from UNHCR,1997)
	Name of Organization                    Date Founded	    Approximate Average Annual Level of Funding (USD)
	International Rescue Committee (IRC)    1933	            22 million
	CARE International (Belgium & Canada)   Aftermath of WWII   12.2 million
	OXFAM                                   1942                 7.2 million
	MSF                                     1971                 7 million
	Lutheran World Federation               1947                 7 million
	Adventist Dev. and Relief Agency (ADRA)	1956                 5 million
	Norwegian Refugee Council               1946                 4.2 million
	Save the Children Fund                  1932                 4 million

Teachers of high school age students may wish students to conduct research into and present about the role or activities of the UNHCR or other NGOs ctive in refugee issues. Groups of students can select an organization, a region, or a crisis, and research and analyze from that viewpoint. Students may be able to find a great deal of information available on the Internet, and may also be able to ask questions to the organizations via email. Presentation may be through poster sessions, or multi-media sessions in the CALL lab.

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When a large influx of refugees crosses a border unexpectedly, camps are established without much pre-planning. Such hastily constructed facilities often suffer from problems of overcrowding, poor sanitation, and contagious diseases, such as cholera or typhoid. Other health problems prevalent in refugee populations include: skin infections, STDs, and psychological illnesses associated with trauma. Injuries due to violence, which may have been inflicted prior to entering camp, or while in the camp, are common. Women, children, and the aged, in particular, frequently suffer from the effects of malnutrition.
Cooper and Herrman (2003) report that in camps established in Gbarnga and Zorzor as a response to the 2003 Liberia emergency, there was "a lack of food and heath care and high levels of child malnutrition" (p. 8), and due to the nature of the conflict, injuries as a result of violence were common. This situation requires that health care be targeted towards primary, rather than preventative care. They also note the "general signs of fear and despair" (p. 8). Additionally, discussing the situation amongst long-term refugees living in camps, Rogge (1992, in Maynard, 1999) describes the problems associated with "Displaced Persons Apathy" in Cambodian camps, where feelings of alienation and reliance on handouts led to reduced self-respect and resourcefulness. Practices such as gambling, prostitution, and alcoholism contributed to mental illness and decreased the decision-making abilities of residents of camps.
Study and discussion of case studies such as these is particularly apt for health, nursing, medical, psychology, or dental students at the university level. One way to highlight these issues would be to begin with a Dictogloss to introduce some of the health problems typically experienced by refugees. Next an example of a design of a refugee camp may be provided to students. A jigsaw reading or listening exercise may also be provided to highlight potential areas of concern with respect to provision of health services. Students could then work in pairs or groups to redesign the camp to minimize health risks and maximize access to care.


Issues which can be considered in this category include economic concerns at all levels; environmental concerns; concerns of access to conflict regions, to IDP's, to refugee camps, and to resources within camps; gender concerns; clan/class/caste concerns; concerns of or about organizational aspects of humanitarian action of international organizations, costs involved in establishing and maintaining a refugee camp; the economy of a refugee camp (formal and informal); and the costs of repatriation/resettlement of refugees.
Hyndman (2000) characterizes women as being "both inside and outside the humanitarian project of the refugee camp" (p 91). This is because many refugee households are headed by women due to separation from or death of male family members in warfare or complex emergencies. Women thus bear the responsibility for caring for older and younger family members, and often also assume responsibility for the care of children separated from their families. However, women are less likely to speak the language of aid workers, or have access to jobs in or outside refugee camps. They also have generally fewer opportunities to be involved in (camp) decision-making and consultations with relief organizations. Furthermore, local communities are often dispersed during complex emergencies, resulting in a breakdown of safety networks for women. In the camps, issues of safety and logistics of aid workers are considered first, resulting in issues primarily affecting women:
  1. The layout of camps vis-a-vis work directly affect the lives of women by dictating distance of tasks such as water, fuel and supply collection, thus influencing strategies of maintaining households, routines.
  2. The layout of camps vis-a-vis physical safety directly affect the lives of women, e.g. provision of communal housing with no privacy for women; locating toilets and other basic services at an unsafe distance from where women are housed; and the construction of barriers or mines around camp perimeters notwithstanding that firewood and other items need to be collected.
The location and makeup of supplies for subsistence (e.g. sorghum needs up to 3 hours of milling and cooking compared to rice, which needs only 30 minutes), or dried goods vs. culturally appropriate fresh foods also directly affect the lives of women in terms of length and intensity of labor necessary to prepare meals.
All of these factors need to be considered in terms of clan affiliation and culturally-determined divisions of labor. An excellent example of the issues described here, as they relate to Bhutanese refugee women in Nepal, is provided in Human Rights Watch (2003). Resources for teaching this issue are provided in the UNHCR Unit Plan for Ages 15-18 in Geography: The Environmental Impact of Refugees and UNHCR's Response (n.d.-h), in which students compare and contrast a number of factors in camps in the Kagera region of Kenya.
Using these materials, there is a great deal of scope for exploring definitions, locations, reasons, organizations, or possible individual actions in university speaking classes. Instructors may use dictogloss, jigsaw reading, case studies, or problem-solving techniques. Students could produce such artifacts as comic books, plays, presentations, debate, etc. There is an excellent lesson plan in Eastley (2003, 58-60) which can be used as an introduction for the unit.

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One way to highlight these issues for engineering, architecture, or design students is to start with a jigsaw reading to identify the needs of refugee camp. Students work in pairs or groups to design a camp for a specified number of people expected at one specific location. Topographic maps will assist in planning. Students present their projects and complete an analysis and critique of all plans, then discuss. Students may also analyse and describe one system used in a camp, e.g. the fresh water delivery system, or the waste water purification system. Can they identify any problems with the system as it is, or can they suggest improvements on the design of the system?
One way to bring these issues to the fore for Economics students would be to run a simulation (either computer-based, or face-to-face) of informal economies of refugee camps through the assignment of roles giving times to do a task / allocations of supplies / needs of families. Students must then try and negotiate the division of labour in order to achieve all needs within the task parameters. They may set prices, or institute a barter system in order to do this.

Cross-cultural communication

Cross-cultural communication includes communication issues as well as issues of cultural expectations and conflicts of cultural norms. In complex emergencies, differing cultural expectations and norms may lead to marginalization and disenfranchisement of populations, resulting in threats or acts of violence against these populations, triggering flight from such conditions and areas. A good example of this, which can be used in its entirety as a reading text, or selectively as a listening text, is the story told by Mesfin, a refugee in the Kakuma camp, Kenya, in Tilting Cages: An Anthology of Refugee Writings edited by Flutter and Solomon (1995).
Refugees and IDPs also experience difficulties arising from conflicts of cultural expectations and norms when inter-reacting with local and international organizations. Some examples include: varying reactions to sexual assault, reactions to genital mutilation, and distribution routes of supplies in refugee and IDP camps and settlements. Finally, when refugees or IDPs begin to communicate with local and international organizations, they often need to communicate through translators, and problems associated with translation and representation often arise.

An Essential Resource

The World Refugee Survey is published annually, both in paper and on-line form. The 2004 edition is available for download from www.refugees.org/wrs04/index.html, and older versions are also available on the same site. The World Refugee Survey is a recommended resource for anyone thinking of incorporating the teaching of refugee issues into the curriculum. It offers a region-by-region and country-by-country description of the movements of and conditions in which refugees live. Current statistics on asylum seekers, refugees, and others of concern may be found at the UNHCR website.


Many possibilities exist for incorporating the teaching of the global refugee crisis into a great variety of classrooms in ways which interest and involve students. It is hoped that this brief introduction and the outlines of teaching ideas will spur a growing interest in the teaching of refugee issues. Involving students in empathy-building, critical analyses, case studies, and problem-solving of real world issues leads to heightened awareness of the world, its people and cultures. Sensitivity to language and program goals may be maintained while teaching such content-based units.


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Eastley, F. (2003). Refugee Issues in the Classroom. In T. Newfields, K. Kikuchi, & K. Asakawa (Eds.). Proceedings & Supplement for the 1st Peace as a Global Language Conference. Tokyo: PGL1 Committee. (pp. 58 - 60.)

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Eastley, F. (2004). Human Rights and Problem-solving in the Classroom. In T. Newfields, K. Bradford-Watts, J. T. Denny, et al. (Eds.) Proceedings & Supplement for the 2nd Peace as a Global Language Conference. Tokyo: PGL2 Committee. (pp. 15 - 21.)

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Worknehe, M. (1995). All tomorrows are the same. In N. Flutter & C. Solomon (Eds.). Tilting Cages: An Anthology of Refugee Writings. Pyrmont NSW, Australia: N. Flutter and C. Solomon. (pp. 77-81.)

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