Walk a Mile in These Shoes

[Originally published in shorter form in the Vanuatu Daily Post’s Weekender Edition.]

Timorese GirlAttendees of this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, received an invitation from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to ‘an event you will never forget’. The event, called the Refugee Run , is a Disneyland-style re-enactment of life in a refugee camp.

I can’t speak for the guests, but the image of champagne-and-caviar billionaires spending a couple of hours scuffing their loafers with designer dust behind artfully laid out barbed wire before returning to their luxury hotels – well, that is something I won’t soon forget. No matter how hard I try.

Not that we needed any reminder of just how out of touch the majority of those living in privilege really are, but this event starkly illustrates just how great the chasm between rich and poor really is. It is an object lesson on how easy it is for even the most high-minded among us to mistakenly confuse poverty with a lack of physical wealth.

According to apologists, the Davos refugee sideshow is really an exercise in visualisation. By simulating the experience of powerlessness and intimidation most refugees feel, our captains of industry will be brought closer to them, making it easier for them to bestow their largesse on the dispossessed.

That idea isn’t utterly without merit, but I can say from experience that even a visit to a real refugee camp does very little indeed to convey the refugee experience. It’s one thing to see patience, resignation and demoralisation in the eyes of another; it’s another thing entirely to live it over a space of months, often years.

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