What’s it like to be a refugee? This new exhibit invites you to find out.


“It’s not like people choose to live in this situation.”A young child is lifted from a boat containing approximately 650 people during a rescue in the Mediterranean Sea by the Bourbon Argos. CREDIT: AP Photo/Francesco ZizolaYou’re sleeping in bed. A blast hits nearby. You jolt up in bed, startled. Another blast hits, this time closer. And another. The last one shatters your windows and leaves a deep crack in the wall. There’s silence. Then there’s screaming. There’s ringing and blood in your ears. Dust and debris everywhere. You think fast. You gather your kids. You grab your keys and your wallet. But your car is no longer there. There’s a big gaping hole in the street where it used to be.You and your kids are running.You leave everything behind: photos, clothes, glasses, books, diplomas, pets. You don’t know where you’re going. There are others outside. You run together. You wind up along the coast. You get on an overcrowded boat that you’re sure is holding way too many people. It starts to take in water.Some version of this experience has played out for the 65.3 million displaced people in the world, about 21 million of whom are classified as refugees. But for other people who haven’t been forced from their homes, it may be hard to relate to what refugees have gone through.That’s why the international emergency medical organization Doctors Without Border/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) organized Forced from Home, a traveling exhibition that allows people to see the refugee crisis up close through the eyes of aid workers.An elderly Burundian refugee woman, Therese Njebarikanye, 70, carrying firewood in Nyarugusu camp in Tanzania. CREDIT: Luca SolaMSF organizers hope the immersive exhibit may help “close the distance between a far-off, unfathomable crisis in a place like Syria and people in lower Manhattan or Washington, D.C. or Philadelphia — and make people put themselves in the shoes of someone who has a matter of minutes to decide what to take with them on a journey that they will probably never return from in terms of coming back home,” Jason Cone, the executive director for MSFUSA, told ThinkProgress.According to a MSF press release, the exhibit will include materials from refugee camps, rescue missions, and emergency medical projects from around the world, along with photos and stories displaced people. Visitors can also take part in an immersive 360-degree video and virtual reality (VR) component that drops them into various refugee camps where aid workers can talk about the situation there.Visitors can undergo an immersive experience at the MSF exhibit. EDWIN TORRESGuests receive a passport upon arrival that will determine their journey throughout the exhibit. EDWIN TORRESThe exhibit displays tent shelters that could sleep entire families for several months, and in some cases, several years. EDWIN TORRESStarting on Friday, the exhibit will be on display for four days in New York City before it moves on to Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, and Boston. Eventually, organizers hope to expand the project as part of a three-year traveling tour around the country.The exhibit’s opening coincides with the end of a U.N. summit in New York seeking to coordinate a global solution to the largest migration crisis in more than 70 years. The declaration agreed to this week didn’t necessarily win everyone over — refugee advocates say that host countries could do more to help displaced people. But it was a start to get world leaders to understand that a more serious international response is needed.MSF worker Michelle Mays, who works as a nurse and project coordinator, sees the exhibit as a way to share the experiences she’s witnessed on the ground in Nigeria, Jordan, Central African Republic, Ethiopia, South Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo, among other places.Mays just returned from the Borno state in northeast Nigeria, a country where about 7 million people — half of whom are children — need humanitarian assistance. There, she helped set up the emergency response for people displaced by the conflict between Nigerian military and the militant Islamist group Boko Haram. The south Borno town where she worked was holding thousands of displaced people who are now living anywhere they can find shelter, including in abandoned schools and underneath trees.“Water supply is scarce. Shelter conditions is insufficient. People are living in overcrowded conditions and there are health concerns. There are also safety issues because the town is not functioning so people build their own systems of guarding and protecting themselves,” Mays recounted.Mays hopes that the MSF exhibit could help people see the humanity in people who are trapped in difficult situations.“We have an obligation as human beings to see other human beings as human beings. It’s difficult for me because you see people live in situations that they are forced to live in. It’s not like people choose to live in this situation,” Mays said. “These are our patients.”Donald Trump Jr.’s Skittles tweet: inaccurate, dehumanizing, plagiarized, and rooted in anti…Humanizing refugees in this way is a big departure from the current political environment, where displaced people from countries like Syria are being smeared as potential terrorist threats instead of treated with compassion.After the terrorist attacks in Paris, France when a fake or stolen Syrian passport was found next to the body of a suicide bomber, more than two dozen U.S. governors started refusing to resettle Syrian refugees in their states. The state of Texas continues to refuse to cooperate with the federal government to resettle refugees on claims of potential terrorism threats, leaving nonprofit organizations to scramble to fill the void. Leading that fear-mongering campaign, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has tried to portray Syrian refugees as “Trojan Horses,” claiming they are unvetted before they enter the country. His son Trump Jr. recently compared Syrian refugees to poisoned candy.“There’s a lot of hate and xenophobic discourse,” Cone said. “We want to bring this back to ‘these are human beings put in situations that are far out of their control.’”What’s it like to be a refugee? This new exhibit invites you to find out. was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story. Read the responses to this story on Medium.

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