1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

A day in the life of a refugee at Davos

Paul-Christian Britz, Davos / jdJanuary 20, 2016

No other topic has captured the attention of the delegates to the World Economic Forum as much as the migrant crisis. A simulation lets the world's powerful feel the powerlessness of being a refugee.

Image: DW/P.-C. Britz

Participants step through a heavy wooden door into an alien world. Everyone receives a new identity, a role, and a family. But before the families have time to find each other, an alarming announcement: home isn't safe anymore. Everyone has to run - under heavy fire, with just the clothes on their back, documents, and with luck, a little bit of money.

A hail of bullets and screams accompany the escape, away from the city and across the border into a refugee camp. Here, the psychological terror begins. Men and women are distributed haphazardly in tents - with little regard for Muslim women, for whom contact with men who aren't family members goes against custom.

Refugee-run beim World Economic Forum in Davos
A day in a refugee's shoesImage: DW/P.-C. Britz

Soldiers bark out a cacophony of orders: "Sleep! Get out of the tent! Why are you making trouble, you're supposed to be asleep!" All at the same time. But no one can sleep. Someone's dragged out of the tent, shots are heard. Lining up, again and again. Pleas, threats, confusion.

The quiet moments don't bring any peace. There's a school, but it's of little help because the teacher doesn't speak the same language.

Refugee-run beim World Economic Forum in Davos
Refugee run at the World Economic Forum in DavosImage: DW/P.-C. Britz

Food only comes in exchange for bribes - a watch, a cellphone, and a wedding ring is worth a small bowl of water. The doctor is supposed to have medicine. But in her tent, there are only random body parts - no pills or ointments.

A soldier, also supposed to have medicine, isn't about to settle for money or goods. "Do you have a daughter?" he asks the 15-year old farm boy, my character in this simulation. He's not really interested in the answer. "Bring me your daughter tomorrow, then you'll get medicine."

The powerful play the powerless

The loss of control, uncertainty through arbitrary aggression and violence, and plain fear - that's how WEF participants and journalists describe their experiences in "A day in the life of a refugee." They sit in a circle, browbeaten and still. Many are still reeling from the 45-minute simulation of what refugees go through before they end up in Europe.

The Crossroads Foundation has already received more than a 100 applications for the simulation they created.

"Many participants come out of the simulation crying," said David Begbie, senior spokesman for Crossroads.

He hopes this visceral experience will shake people into action - to think about what they can do to help refugees.

"Empathy is the key to a better world," he believes. "Then action can follow."

David Begbie von der Crossroads-Foundation im DW-Interview
DW talks to the Crossroads Foundation's David BegbieImage: DW/P.-C. Britz

Power has its limits

And in almost direct contrast: German President Joachim Gauck, opening the forum with a speech on the refugee question. He too, urges empathy. But he says Europe is losing the space to maneuver.

"A limit (to immigration) is not per se unethical, because it helps to maintain acceptance of migrants," Gauck said. "A strategy to limit immigration can be politically and morally necessary, to ensure the government does not lose its power to act."

The message: more cannot be done. Gauck is expecting a cap to immigration as early as this year - in the hope of winning back the support of the German public.