Reality bites in Davos dramatization

January 29, 2009

“Oh! Can I cover this story?!”

I ran over to my assignment editor and thrust the press release under her nose.

“A refugee camp simulation? Full of CEOs? Great idea for pictures. Go for it,” she said.

“Great, I’m going to cover a war zone,” I thought. “They’ll dress me up in combat gear and I can make my name as one of those cool reporters that covers the World Economic Forum in Davos each year.”

According to António Guterres, the U.N. high commissioner for refugees, the financial crisis is really making it hard for humanitarian causes.

So what better place than a gathering of the world’s economic leaders to raise awareness of the global refugee crisis?

Guterres has teamed up with the not-for-profit foundation Crossroads, which created a simulated environment using actors to recreate what it is like to be a refugee in a war zone. It is running several times a day here in Davos this week.

Off I merrily went this morning, camera journalist Jim in tow, to film some business leaders learning how to live like refugees.

We had a briefing before we went in, and were warned it has proven to be an intense experience for most people.

“Right,” I said to Jim. “Let’s just hang at the back and get some good pictures.”

Unfortunately, hanging at the back turned out to be my downfall.

We huddled into a small tent-like room. An actor in character informed us that the king of our country had been overthrown and the rebel soldiers were coming to get us.

Suddenly, everything went black. Literally. I realised shortly afterwards that the room was now full of armed soldiers, shouting at the top of their lungs and pointing rifles.

It was still pitch black, but my head was spinning.

“I’ve been hit in the head!” I thought indignantly. “They said we weren’t going to be beaten!”

Then I realised my fingers were sticky, and suddenly the whole situation took on a reality I hadn’t expected.

Where was Jim? Off getting some great pictures like the great journalist he is.

We were all of us, including a high commissioner, herded into another room where a solider started yelling at me to get a move on. I then realised there was blood streaming down the right side of my face.

He asked me what had happened. “I don’t know, the lights were off,” I said groggily. So much for award winning journalism.

A nurse was fetched, but in order to maintain the reality of the simulation, I was patched up refugee-style in a cleaning cupboard.

I then had to rejoin the refugee camp as one of the walking wounded until simulated nightfall.

Jim, unaware that my injury was real, merrily continued to film, giving me a thumbs up for getting into the spirit.

Surrounded by a barbed-wire fence, around me CEOs, a high commissioner and other members of the press were having their watches and phones taken from them, being given bread and water and generally being poked at by angry-sounding soldiers.

Jim and I finally managed to extricate ourselves from the simulation, and the organisers congratulated me on having the most authentic experience of any of their clients to date.

It certainly made me think. I’d hate to be a refugee in a war-zone.

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