Can you answer these questions? Would your asylum application be acceptable?


This is a simulation of the difficulties that refugees face when applying for asylum. Issues raised include:
• The frustrations and emotional factors refugees have to face
• Overcoming the language barrier
• Discrimination during the application procedure

Related rights

• The right to seek and enjoy asylum
• The right not to be discriminated against on the basis of ethnicity   or country of origin
• The right to be considered innocent until proven guilty


• To raise awareness about discrimination by border police and   immigration authorities
• To develop intercultural communication skills
• To foster empathy with refugees and asylum seekers


• Copies of the "Asylum Application" handout, one for each  participant
• Pens, one per person


Arrange the room so you can sit behind a desk and role play the formality of a bureaucratic official.

Key Date
  • 21 FebruaryInternational Mother Language Day


1. Let participants arrive but do not greet anyone or acknowledge their presence. Don't say anything about what is going to happen.
2. Wait a few minutes after the scheduled start time and then hand out the copies of the "Application for Asylum" and the pens, one to each participant.
3. Tell them that they have five minutes to complete the form, but don't say anything else. Ignore all questions and protests. If you have to communicate, speak another language (or a made-up language) and use gestures. Keep all communication to a minimum. Remember that the refugees' problems are not your concern; your job is only to hand out the forms and collect them in again!
4. Greet any latecomers curtly (for example, "You are late. Take this form and fill it in. You have only got a few minutes left to do it.")
5. When five minutes are up, collect the forms without smiling or making any personal contact.
6. Call a name from the completed forms and tell that person to come forward. Look at the form and make up something about how they have filled in the form, for instance, "You didn't answer question 8" or "I see you answered "no" to question 6. Application dismissed." Tell the person to go away. Do not enter into any discussion. Go straight on to call the next person to come forward.
7. Repeat this process several times. It is not necessary to review all the applications, only continue for as long as necessary for the participants to understand what is happening.
8. Finally break out of your role and invite participants to discuss what happened.

Debriefing and evaluationGoto top

Start by asking people how they felt during the activity and then move on to discuss what happened, what they have learned and the links with human rights.

  • How did the participants feel when they were filling out an unintelligible form?
  • How realistic was the simulation of an asylum-seeker's experience?
  • Do you think that in your country asylum seekers are treated fairly during their application for asylum? Why? Why not?
  • What could be the consequences for someone whose asylum application is refused?
  • Have the participants ever been in a situation where they could not speak the language and were confronted by an official, for instance, a police officer or a ticket-controller? How did it feel?
  • Which human rights are at stake in this activity?
  • What possibilities do asylum seekers have to claim protection from violations of their rights?
  • How many asylum seekers are there in your country? Do you think your country takes its fair share of refugees?
  • Which rights are asylum seekers denied in your country?

Tips for facilitatorsGoto top

This is a fairly easy activity to facilitate: the main thing required from you is to do be "strong" in your role and you must be serious, tough and bureaucratic. The plight of the asylum seekers is not your concern; you are here to do your job! The point is that many people do not want refugees in their country. Immigration officers are under orders to screen the refugees and to allow entry only to those who have identification papers and who complete the application forms correctly. The refugees frequently have a poor command of the other country's language and find it very difficult to fill in the forms. Also, they are in a distressed and emotional state. It is especially hard for them to understand what is happening because their applications are frequently dismissed and they do not understand the reasons.

The "Application for Asylum" is in a Creole language. Creole are languages that have come into existence as a result of two peoples, who have no common language, trying to communicate with each other. The result is a mixture. For example, Jamaican Creole features largely English words with dialect pronunciation superimposed on West African grammar. There are several Creole languages, for instance, in Haiti and The Dominican Republic, and in some Pacific and Indian Ocean islands such as Papua New Guinea and The Seychelles. The reason Creole is used in this exercise is because relatively few Europeans will know it. If it happens that you have a participant who speaks this Creole language, you could ask him/her to take the role of the border police or immigration officer.

Suggestions for follow-upGoto top

If you want to look at the arguments for accepting or denying refugees entry into a country, look at the activity "Can I come in?" .

Many asylum seekers coming to Europe have difficulties integrating because they had very little education in their home countries. If you would like to find out more about inequalities of educational provision worldwide you could use the activity "Education for All".

Ideas for actionGoto top

Find out more about the procedures and what actually happens in your country when an asylum seeker comes to the border. Where and when do they fill in the first forms? Do they have the right to an interpreter from the very start? Look on the Internet on the official government information website, invite an immigration officer to come and talk about the challenges of the job, and interview asylum seekers to find out their views on the situation, how fair they think the system is, and what difficulties they faced, especially with the initial form-filling procedures.  The information could be used for refugee awareness campaigns, or fed back to the immigration department or to organisations such as the UNHCR and Amnesty International.

Children, especially those seeking asylum unaccompanied by a parent or an adult who is a close family member, need special protection. Find out what procedures are in place for unaccompanied minors and see if there are practical ways you could help, for example by giving help with translating documents sent by the authorities or becoming a guardian (see further information below).

Further informationGoto top

The word "refugee" is used in general to mean someone who is fleeing his or her country and looking for safety. It also has a precise, legal meaning as someone who is officially recognised as needing protection under the Geneva Convention of 1951. An "asylum seeker" is someone who is seeking to become a legally recognised refugee. Formal definitions of the terms are given in the glossary and more explanations and information can be found in the further information section with the activity "Can I come in?".

You will find many more ideas for activities about refugees in a tool kit produced by the British Red Cross.
Go to and search for Positive Images.

The following information is from the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE),

A refugee's chances of gaining protection depend greatly upon the procedures used to assess asylum cases. Even the most compelling claim for international protection can fail, if it is not fully and fairly considered. Border and immigration authorities must understand the obligation to receive asylum seekers, while legal aid and interpretation services must be available to asylum seekers.
On 1 December 2005 the EU Asylum Procedures Directive came into force; it lays down the minimum standards on procedures in Member States for granting and withdrawing refugee status. It deals with issues such as access to procedures (including border procedures), detention, the examination of applications, personal interviews and legal assistance. In the ECRE's view, the Directive "falls short of standards conducive to a full and fair examination of an asylum claim. … issues of concern include … the sanctioning of border procedures that derogate from the principles and guarantees of the Directive itself." In 2009 the Directive was amended to ensure better harmonisation of the asylum system in Europe.

This activity is adapted from Donahue, D. and Flowers, N., The Uprooted, Hunter House Publishers, 1995.

Children seeking asylum
The Council of Europe's Commissioner for human rights wrote on 20 April 2010: "We have a duty to protect these children (unaccompanied minors). The key is that they have a right to protection. The first step should not therefore be to automatically decide on return, but rather to designate rapidly a guardian who would represent the interest of the child. This is the best protection against any abuse from traffickers, but also from possible negligence by authorities in the host country".

HandoutsGoto top

PDFDownload as PDF

Application for asylum
1. Appellido  
2. Primer nombre  
3. Fecha de nacimiento  
4. Pais, ciudad de residencia  
5. Ou genyen fanmi ne etazini?  
6. Kisa yo ye pou wou  
7. Ki papye imagrasyon fanmi ou yo genyen isit?  
8. Eske ou ansent?  
9. Eske ou gen avoka?  
10. Ou jam al nahoken jyman