Refugee, go home! He would if he could.


This is a role-play about a group of refugees trying to escape to another country. It addresses:
• The plight of refugees
• The social and economic arguments for giving and denying asylum


Related rights

• The right to seek asylum in other countries
• The right of non-refoulement (the right not to be returned to their country where they can risk persecution or death)
• Freedom from discrimination


• To develop knowledge and understanding about refugees and their rights
• To practise skills to present arguments and make judgements
• To promote solidarity with people who are suddenly forced to flee their homes.


• Role cards
• Flipchart or board to write on
• Chalk and or furniture to create the border crossing post
• Pens and paper for the observers to make notes

  • Copy the role cards. Each border guard, refugee and observer will need their own card.
  • Set the scene for the role-play. For example, draw a line on the floor to represent a border or arrange furniture to make a physical frontier with a gap for the check point. Use a table to serve as a counter in the border control office.
  • Inform yourself about refugees and the current refugee situation worldwide.


Key Date
  • 20 JuneWorld Refugee Day


1. Explain that this is a role-play about a group of refugees fleeing their homeland who wish to enter another country in search of safety.
2. Start with a brainstorm to find out what people know about refugees. Write the points on a large sheet of paper or flipchart to refer to in the discussion later.
3. Show people the set-up and explain the scenario. Tell them that they are on the border between countries X and Y. A large number of refugees have arrived. They want to cross into Y. They are hungry, tired and cold and have travelled a long way from their home countries, P; Q and R. Some have a little money and only a few have identification documents or passports. The border officials from country Y have different points of view about the situation.  The refugees are desperate, and use several arguments to try to persuade the border officials to let them in."

4. Divide the participants into three groups: one group to represent the refugees,
the second group to represent the border officials in country Y, and the third group to be observers.
5. Tell the "refugees" and the "border officials" to work out a role for each person and what their arguments will be. Advise the observers about giving feedback. Distribute the role cards and give people fifteen minutes to prepare.
6. Start the role-play. Use your own judgement about when to stop, but about ten minutes should be long enough.
7. Give the observers five minutes to prepare their feedback; then start the debriefing and evaluation.

Debriefing and evaluationGoto top

Start by asking the observers to give general feedback on the role-play. Then get comments from the players about how it felt to be a refugee or a border official, and then move on to a general discussion about the issues and what participants learnt.
• How fair was the treatment of the refugees?
• Refugees have a right to protection under Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and under the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. Were the refugees given their right to protection? Why/why not?
• Should a country have the right to turn refugees away? When? For what reasons?
• Would you turn someone away if you were a border official? What if you knew they faced death in their own country?

  • How are refugees met at the borders of your country? Are any of their human rights being violated? Which?

• What can and should be done to stop people becoming refugees in the first place?

Tips for facilitatorsGoto top

The situation with regards to refugees differs widely throughout Europe and you should consider how to set the scenario and adapt the activity to meet your objectives in running this activity. It will help if you invent a short back story about the fictitious countries, X and Y where the scene is set; Z, the country beyond Y and P,Q and R the source countries of the refugees.

Inform yourself about the definitions of a refugee, an asylum seeker (see the background chapter on migration). Also make a note of the main source countries of refugees and the numbers of refugees in the neighbouring countries. Also check how many refugees there are in your country and in other European countries All this information is on the website.

Use the brainstorm to ascertain how much people already know about why there are refugees, what causes people to flee their homeland, where they come from and the countries that they go to. This will help you decide how to guide the debriefing and evaluation, and what additional information you may need to provide at that stage.

Think about what to do if someone in the group is a refugee. If they are willing, you could build on their experience and use them as a resource person. 

The three groups do not have to be equal. You may, for instance, choose to have only three or four observers and let the rest of the group be active role-players. In real life there are likely to be many more refugees than border guards and you may wish to reflect this in the role play. A good tip is to give the observers the role of “journalists” who have to file a report as part of the debriefing.

Consider what you want to achieve with this activity and think about how to set the scene. Are your refugees a mass of tired, hungry, desperate people? If so you could, run the activity outdoors in a wood or else by a river or lake if your refugees are to arrive in a crowded, leaky boat. If you are indoors and want to set the scene on a dark, cold night turn of f the lights and open the windows. Alternatively, are the refugees arriving in smaller numbers at a formal border crossing? In this case set up an “office” where the officials can (briefly) check the refugees passports and ask where they come from.

Review the role cards and adapt them as necessary.

Be aware that the role play can get very chaotic. In this case, stop the action (as in Forum Theatre) and ask the journalists to interview the refugees and the border guards. This will enable everyone calm down and listen more carefully.

VariationsGoto top

After the debriefing, run the role play a second time, but let the participants swap roles. The observers should now have the additional task of noting any differences between the first and the second role-plays, especially those that resulted in a higher protection of the refugees' rights.

You may also like to make a fourth group who play citizens who want to help, but can only do a little because they are constrained by both the police and bureaucracy.

Make a follow-on role-play involving an official team sent by UNHCR  or Red Cross to help the refugees in from country X.

Suggestions for follow-upGoto top

Find out more about refugees in your country, especially about the realities of their daily lives. Participants could contact a local refugee association and interview workers, volunteers and refugees.

Look at where you can read stories written (in English) by asylum seekers and refugees in Denmark. Pick an article and discuss your response.

The British Red Cross has information and activities about refugees that is produced in their Positive Images project:

The group could test their refugee knowledge about at

A school class may like to carry on with the topic by researching information about the role of the UNHCR ( and then writing an "official report" including the following points:
• Those arguments which persuaded the border officials to let the refugees in
• Any inappropriate behaviour by the border officials
• Recommendations for what country Y should do to protect the rights of the refugees.

Discuss the situation in Europe today. How are politicians responding? What are the different countries' attitudes towards refugees, and why are they different? For instance, you could compare the policies of countries that respect their commitment to refugees with those that close their borders to them. Ask the group to divide into groups, each group to represent a different country, and to develop a European plan for dealing with the crisis.
You can also ask, what the attitudes of ordinary people in your and in other European countries are and what are they doing? This obviously begs other questions about how do we know and can we generalise? Analysing media reports for bias might be a fruitful exercise.

Discuss whether or not the Geneva Convention meets the needs of the present and if it needs updating. For instance, in many counties to get refugee status asylum seekers have to prove that they are being persecuted individually; it is not enough to be a member of a group that is being persecuted or to come from a war zone. Similarly, climate refugees are not covered by the Convention.

You may like to do the activity, “3 things” to help people understand what it is like to suddenly have to flee home with no time to gather together things to take with you. 

If you want to try an activity that follows the events after refugees have crossed over the border and are applying for asylum, you can run the activity "Language barrier" . You could also make a collage or posters to illustrate the difficulties refugees face; see "Playing with pictures".

Ideas for actionGoto top

Make contact with a local or national organisation that works for refugees living in your country and see what you can do to support them. For example, many are lonely and find it hard to integrate; they may appreciate some new friends or assistance with learning the language.

Children who come alone without a family member to seek asylum are especially vulnerable. The group could find out what happens to these unaccompanied minors in their country and how they could support them. Ideas include being a friend, helping with learning the language and education, playing football and going on outings together.

Invite an NGO working with refugees or even a refugee to your school or club to learn more about how refugees get to your country, the asylum process and about their life now.

Definitions and statistics about refugees and migrants can be found in the Migration section of chapter 5.

The website of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) provides a lot information, flyers and videos for organising a workshop about refugees in your organisation or school:

Further informationGoto top

Refugees are people who have to move if they are to save their lives or preserve their freedom. They have no protection from their own state - indeed it is often their own government that is threatening to persecute them. If other countries do not let them in, and do not help them once they are in, then they may be condemning them to death - or to an intolerable life in the shadows, without sustenance and without rights.

Other useful sites include:

HandoutsGoto top

PDFDownload as PDF

Refugees’ role card
Refugees’ arguments and options
You are to role-play a mixed group of refugees, so in your preparations each person should decide their identity: their age, gender, family relationships, profession, wealth, religion and any possessions they have with them. Also decide which country you come from, P, Q or J. and whether you are fleeing from war, because of persecution and lack of human rights or another reason.
You should prepare your arguments and tactics; it is up to you to decide whether to put your arguments as a group or whether each member takes a turn to put forward an argument.
You can use these arguments and any others you can think of:
• It is our legal right to seek asylum.
• Our children are hungry; you have a moral responsibility to help us.
• I will be killed if I go back.
• I have no money. My only possessions are two items of jewellery of great sentimental value
• I haven’t anywhere else to go.
• I was a doctor / nurse / engineer in my hometown.
• I only want shelter until it is safe to return.
• Other refugees have been allowed into your country. Why not us?
• Where are we? The smugglers agreed to deliver us to country Z.
• I will try to bribe the officials to let me enter.
• My mother and brother are already in Y
• I am on my way to Z, I don't want to stop in Y

Other things to consider:
• Do any of you have travel documents? Are they genuine or are they false?
• Will you split up if the border officials ask you to?
• What will you do if they try to send you back? What are your options? For instance, is there a refugee camp you could go to? Is there any way you can get a travel document? Could you find and pay a people smuggler? Is there another route you can take into Y?

Observers’ role card
Your job is to observe the role-play. At the end you will be asked to give feedback. Choose a member to be your representative.
As you watch you should, amongst other things, be aware of:
• The different roles played by both the refugees and border officials.
• The moral and legal arguments they use and how they present them.
• Look out for any infringements of human rights.
You have to decide how you are going to take note of everything. For example, you may consider dividing into two subgroups so that one group observes the border officials and the other the refugees.

Border officials’ role card
Border officials’ arguments and options
You should prepare your arguments and tactics; it is up to you to decide whether to put your argument as a group or whether each member takes a turn to put forward an argument. 
You can use these arguments and any others you can think of:
• They are desperate: we can’t send them back.
• If we send them back we will be morally responsible if they are arrested, tortured or killed.
• We have legal obligations to accept refugees.
• They have no money, and will need state support. Our country cannot afford that.
• Do they have any travel documents or means of identification? Are these genuine or false?
• Do they look like genuine refugees? Maybe some are just here to look for a better standard of living?
• Our country is a military and business partner of country X. We can’t be seen to be protecting them.
• Maybe they have skills that we need?
• There are enough refugees in our country. We need to take care of our own people. They should go to richer countries.
• We could demand that they pay us a bribe to let them in.
• If we let them in, others will also demand entry.
• They don’t speak our language, they have a different religion and they eat different food; they won’t integrate.
• There may be terrorists or war criminals hiding among them
• We are only allowed to take in those who say they are fleeing from the war in P.
• Do they want to claim asylum in Y?
• Do they have any money or valuables to pay for their stay while their asylum application is considered?

Before the role-play, think about the following options:
• Will you let all of the refugees across the border?
• Will you let some of them across the border? Who and for what reasons?
• Will you split them up by age, profession, wealth...?
• Will you do something else instead? What?


This activity was adapted from First Steps: A Manual for starting human rights education, Amnesty International, London, 1997.
For their latest version of the activity see “On the Borders Of Europe Workshop”
The quote, “Refugee go home! He would if he could” was a slogan used in an UNHCR campaign.