For the very first time, in this 70th anniversary year of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the Department of International Cooperation (DCI) and the Department of Education, Youth and Sport (DENJS) held an Inter'Act Tour event in the Principality, bringing together secondary school pupils and refugees.
On 10 December, the François d'Assise-Nicolas Barré Institution (FANB) and its Year 9 classes hosted an initiative entitled "A Day with the Refugees." The aim of this encounter was to raise awareness of the situation of refugees throughout the world and change the way in which people regard the status of refugees.
This emotional day featured meetings, personal accounts, exhibitions, creative workshops and an Iraqi-style meal.
The FANB's Year 9 pupils met and talked to refugees from different countries who, for example, had fled from Chile in the 1970s, Rwanda in the 1990s and had arrived in France and Monaco over the last 30 years or more recently. As a prelude, the pupils enjoyed a special time with staff from the UNHCR, who gave a presentation on the organisation's missions and discussed the notion of migration and forced displacement. At the end of this discussion, a refugee spoke about his or her experience in each class, before taking part in a traditional question-and-answer session with the pupils.
While the pupils were taking part in the morning workshops, a refugee chef was busy in the kitchen and, together with the school catering staff, prepared a traditional meal from her country, Iraq. On the menu at the canteen were Kachke bademjan (an aubergine-based starter), chicken Nardoni for the main course and loukoums for dessert.
In the afternoon, various workshops led by the refugees were offered - singing/writing and origami - in addition to a virtual reality tour of the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan and an exhibition, "The Most Important Thing."
"What would you take with you if you suddenly had to flee your home?" was the question posed by American photographer Brian Sokol, on an assignment with the UNHCR, to refugees from various parts of the world, in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. The exhibition features a series of 13 portraits of refugees posing with the most important item they took with them when they had to flee their country. After visiting the exhibition, the pupils were asked to identify the item they would take with them in these circumstances.
Two other exhibitions were also available to the students: a more general exhibition on the theme of forced displacement, and a second one, which was more specific to the 70th anniversary of the 1951 Geneva Convention.
Officials from the UNHCR, the DCI and the DENJS all expressed the wish that this lovely, powerful experience could be repeated regularly in the Principality.