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Living the Life of a Refugee
08/02 - 2016

Living the Life of a Refugee

For once, allow me to talk about my involvement in the World Economic Forum in Davos from another angle than the one of clean technologies. André and I obviously led several of the sessions, in particular one with Al Gore, on this subject, but it’s another experience that I want to share with you.


This year, the WEF had set up a refugee camp replica, with an ultra-realistic setting and armed guards recruited amongst humanitarian specialists and former African child-soldiers. We could sign up by groups of 50 to live the life of a refugee, before leaving the camp completely overwhelmed by what we had just experienced.


After only a couple of minutes, surrounded by the deafening sound of machine guns and bombarding, you understand that the guards are screaming not to protect you, but to enforce order, or rather their order. Theft, rape, humiliations are part of the refugees’ daily life. It doesn’t take long to comprehend that the only way to survive is by looking down, never lifting your eyes up, answering questions with insipid and repetitive sentences, so as to attract attention by no means; and that you will only be able to drink and eat by paying with what you can offer.


You are a nobody, totally and immediately dehumanised. For me, it was a little easier since I was alone. But I was imagining a father trying in vain to protect his wife and children from the arbitrary, the perversion of the guards and the famine. I had never made a parallel between a refugee and a concentration camp. Up to this moment when I wasn’t able to hold my tears back.


On leaving, I promised myself to recount this experience. For one single reason: that we should see the human being with his/her suffering and hope of survival behind each anonymous spot of color that makes up the long lines of refugees fleeing absolute horror. Later, when I met the eyes of a man with his wife and child holding up a sign saying “SOS Syrian family”, I understood what they were feeling...


What about you, have you already tried putting yourself in their shoes?


Bertrand Piccard