There are 46 million people currently in refugee camps, mainly as a result of conflict and natural disaster.
courtesy Doctors Without Borders

Refugee camp comes closer to home

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Most Canadians have no idea what it's like to be a refugee. This weekend, Doctors Without Borders/ Medécins Sans Frontières will set up a refugee camp in downtown Calgary to change that.

Visitors will participate in a 45-minute tour of a mock refugee camp in Olympic Plaza while walking in the shoes of a refugee. They will be led by a msf field worker and shown a series of huts and tents used by the aid organization to distribute food, water and vaccines for disease and also where refugees sleep and bathe.

msf is an independent medical humanitarian organization founded in 1971 by French doctors who provided medical care in Biafra. In 1999, msf was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their ability to provide quick medical care during emergencies. Camp exhibit project coordinator Linda Nagy said the purpose of the refugee camp exhibition is to raise awareness about the plight of refugees and internally displaced people and the poor conditions they face in camps.

"We're hoping to have a record number of attendees this year, with about 1,000 students per day, as we did a lot of outreach to schools in advance," said Nagy.

She explained that the refugee situation is reaching a critical point in the world, especially due to international conflict and natural disasters.

"There are 26 million [internally displaced people] in the world, in addition to 20 million refugees," she said. "That is 46 million people stuck in refugee camps with nothing else to rely on."

Refugees are forced out of their homes, lose their rights and cross international borders in order to escape conflict or natural disaster. They experience a loss of privacy and are susceptible to diseases that come from sharing small tents with hundreds of refugees.

"Picture yourself having to flee your house at a moment's notice, where you can only take what you can carry in your arms," said Nagy. "You may be separated from your family and you wouldn't know how long you will have to live in a camp. You may share a bathroom with 200 people. Space would be cramped, food will be rationed and you would have to line up for food and medicine."

However, there is a limit to how graphic the exhibition can be and some elements could not be mimicked.

"Of course, there is no way we can re-create a real refugee camp, but we do our best to illustrate the harsh realities of this life for the general public who choose to attend," said Nagy.