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Refugee Simulation Camp Coming to Memory Mall March 16

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By Judy Creel

If you were forced to leave your home country forever and had just a few minutes to decide where to go and what to bring, how would you react?

On March 16, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., a Refugee Simulation Camp will give people a small taste of what it means to face such dire circumstances. The first-of-its-kind-at-UCF event will be an interactive opportunity to "walk in their shoes" for a moment and learn more about immigrant and refugee populations.

Six tents will be set up on Memory Mall, starting with a check-in tent where small groups will receive identity cards that state who they are and where they are from. Other tents will give participants a look at refugees' shelter (size and setup of living and sleeping space), food and water (mock cooking area and types of food) and health conditions. Participants also will hear the lived experiences of refugees and immigrants and learn how they can get involved.

"One of our goals is to dispel some of the myths about refugees," said Social Work Instructor Mary Mann. "They go through such an arduous process just to get to the first location. We want participants to understand what it means to be displaced."

In the refugee process, a person escapes to another country, claims asylum and applies for refugee status. Refugees live in tents in designated camps and receive limited supplies.

"The goal is for a refugee to return to their home country one day if possible," Mann said. "Oftentimes they are unable to return due to long-term war or another issue in the home country."

Those who cannot return home go through an intensive screening process, lasting an average of two years. If they demonstrate a well-founded fear of persecution, they will be granted refuge in a third country.

"However, fewer than one percent of refugees are granted refuge and permanently resettled in a third country," Mann said. "Those who are not granted refuge remain in refugee camps."

The United States accepts a limited number of refugees every year, and in 2016 it will accept 85,000, she added. Refugees who are accepted in the U.S. are assisted by Catholic Charities, which provides shelter, food and health care for 90 days. The refugee is then on his or her own and must pay back travel costs.

Sponsored by the UCF School of Social Work in partnership with Catholic Charities Refugee Resettlement of Central Florida and Hope Community Center, Apopka, the simulation is the brainchild of Alfredo "A.J." Brion and other students from the spring 2015 undergraduate social work elective Social Work with Immigrants and Refugees. The class will be offered again in the 2016-2017 academic year.

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