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Language Barrier

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

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

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 evaluation:
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 facilitators:
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.

Method Details

Learning Space
In Person Training
1 hour
Group Size & Age
any size, any age
• Copies of the "Asylum Application" handout, one for each participant
• Pens, one per person
Created by
COMPASS, Manual for Human Rights Education with Young People, The Council of Europe

This method addresses

Added by

Simla Gültekin

Member since 1 year ago
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