Refugee Crisis Simulation

July 2016

Conceptualized and run by Simon and Vera aus Waldsee

This simulation is designed to teach villagers about the hardships faced by refugees, migrants, and stateless peoples. It is meant to demonstrate the pressures that cause the above groups to move from one country to the next as well as those they face in their host countries.

What you will need:

    • A large quantity of cardboard of varying sizes. The cardboard should range in size from large, refrigerator-box sizes all the way down to CD case size

      • 4-6 rolls of duct tape

      • 4-6 rolls of masking tape

      • 4-6 rolls of scotch tape

      • 10 pairs of scissors

      • 5 pairs of pinking shears

      • Something to create borders between country teams (benches or ropes work well)

      • 4 Water guns

      • 11 tables (1 per team)

      • At least 27 counselors

        • 11 for country teams (1 per team)

        • 4 smugglers

        • 4 border guards (1 of which should also be simulation overseer, to make sure everything is running smoothly)

      • 4 social workers

      • 4 warring parties

How to set up

    • Set up areas for 11 bordering countries

      • 4 countries will represent low income countries (small pieces of cardboard, scotch tape, pinking shears). 1/2 of the villagers should be in these groups

      • 4 countries will represent middle income countries which border on each other and low income countries (medium sized pieces of cardboard, masking and packing tape, normal scissors). 1/3 of the kids should be in these groups.

      • 3 countries will represent high income countries which will border each other and middle income countries (large pieces of cardboard, duct tape, normal scissors). 1/6 of the kids should be in these groups.

How the simulation runs

    • The game is comprised of three phases. After each phase, counselors should take stock of what has happened. The counselors leading the groups should point out to their villagers how the other groups are doing relative to them. They should also point out any newcomers, but not take action unless the villagers decide in favor of that.

    • In addition, only high income countries may set immigration quotas and order newcomers to be deported back to the country of origin.

    • The winning team gets to split a large collective prize (big box of Haribo). This incentivizes teams to limit immigration if possible so they don’t have to split the prize between as many people.

    • Each phase should last around 15 minutes

    • Phase 1

      • Divide the villagers into the groups based on the aforementioned proportions.

      • Villagers will be told by their group leader that the objective of the game is to build the tallest structure possible on their table using the supplies available to them. Border guards will prevent villagers from moving from one country to another. There are more border guards between middle and low than between middle and high.

      • Around 5-10 minutes into the game, counselors with water guns will begin having a water gun fight in the low-income countries’ territories. Counselors will be shooting at each other but will intentionally hit the villagers’ cardboard and other materials. Make sure the villagers are in the crossfire.

      • Smugglers will appear just after the water gun fight and offer some villagers from low-income countries the opportunity to move to a middle income country for a price (cardboard, scissors etc.). Villagers may go with the smuggler or stay in the low-income country.

      • Border guards will randomly ‘catch’ the migrants moving from one country to another and send them home.

      • New arrivals in middle and high income countries should be told that they are not allowed to work. Border guards should send a few of them back if they are caught working

      • Social workers will appear just after the water gun fight and offer to move villagers from low to middle or middle to high (with resources for the host country like cardboard, tape, or scissors) income countries.

      • Since the social workers represent a legal means of migration, they should mark the hands of their charges to show that they are ‘legal refugees’. Border guards are therefore free to deport any newcomers without the mark on their hands.

    • Phase 2

      • As the middle income countries take on more and more villagers from the low-income countries, the middle income villagers will begin to notice that new villagers keep showing up. They are allowed to develop a system of ‘immigration’ by which some are let in and others are not. This should develop organically and not be encouraged by counselors unless the villagers start asking why there are so many new faces.

      • As middle income countries get more and more villagers, social workers will offer to take a small number of high qualified to high income countries.

      • If middle income countries start performing too well in the tower-building assignment, counselors can arrange for ‘spillover’ from the conflicts in the low income countries (this represents a terrorist attack or collateral damage from bombing/chemical weapons)

    • Phase 3

      • Very few villagers/resources will be left in the low income countries. A handful of villagers should remain in the low income countries to symbolize those unable to flee.

      • Middle income countries will have far too many people and not enough resources to continue the tower-building project. They may also be suffering from the effects of conflict spill over (soggy cardboard/tape etc.)

      • High income countries will have taken in a number of ‘refugees’. The villagers in the high income countries can choose how many ‘refugees’ they want to take in. Once again, this should ideally develop organically.


This simulation must be followed up with a debriefing in English. It is often helpful to give the cabin-counselors a packet of information in English and/or the target language. Good questions:

    • Was this simulation fair? Why or why not?

    • How did different villagers from different countries feel?

      • How did you feel as a low-income country getting all your resources destroyed and plundered?

      • How did you feel as a middle income country, unable to control your borders?

      • How did you feel as a high income country when new villagers started showing up without contributing to the project?

    • How does this relate to real life refugee crises? Specifically, how does it relate to the ongoing flow of refugees from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan through the Middle East and Southeastern Europe to Central and Northern Europe?

  • Villagers should be encouraged to continue discussion of these issues with their cabin counselors that evening.