Walking a mile in the shoes of refugees on Independence Mall

    Listen 10:14

    A collection of tents occupying Independence Mall this week takes visitors through a step-by-step re-creation of the struggle faced by 65 million people who have been forced from their homes worldwide.

    “We’re here to humanize a crisis that has been politicized,” said Jason Cone, the executive director of Médecins Sans Frontières America, at the official opening of the Philadelphia stop of “Forced From Home.”

    The traveling exhibit takes visitors through a step-by-step simulation of the struggles of 65 million people who have been forced from their homes worldwide.

    With the height of the migrant crisis happening and growing anti-immigration rhetoric coming from politicians worldwide, MSF — also known as Doctors Without Borders — created an interactive exhibit highlighting the obstacles people face on their quest for a safer life.

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    “No one wants to uproot their family and take them on perilous journeys across thousands of miles of land and sea,”‘ said Dr. Africa Stewart, who leads the tour through the exhibit. “These are last-ditch efforts for a better and safer future.

    “I have to worry about if my child is in the right car seat, not about where to bury my children,” Stewart said, as she recounted her experiences as an aid worker in South Sudan and elsewhere in the world.

    Each tour is led by a MSF aid worker; some are medical professionals and others are logistics professionals.

    The first stop on the journey through the exhibit outlines the “push factors” of displacement, what makes someone leave their home, whether it be war or political or environmentally related.

    Before they begin their journey, patrons are given 30 seconds to grab five items from a peg board, things such as passports, cell phones, jewelry, medicine, photographs. Many families flee in the middle of the night, often leaving behind elders who attempt to make it look like nothing has changed at home to give the rest of the family an opportunity to escape with only what they can carry.

    The journey continues as the guide illustrates the dangers of the actual transit from place to place and the obstacles they face when they arrive at internment centers before they can move on to refugee or internally displaced camps.

    Once in the camps, the displaced can finally receive medical care and mental health support, which is provided by MSF in the 70 countries where it operates.

    “But all of our programs are not enough to counter brutal policies that severely limit access to assistance,” MSF director Jason Cone said. “[We are] witnessing the outright denial of humanitarian aid to people in conflict zones … refugees face restricted access to lifesaving assistance or are forcibly returned to conflict zones.”

    The exhibit aims to bring the abstract association Americanse have with migration to a more enhanced understanding of the choices made by those who take the perilous journey to a better future for them and their family.

    The exhibit runs on Independence Mall through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.


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