Afghani refugee Shukria Akbari and Syrian refugee Samih Mousa are just two of the camp’s guides. (ABC Radio Sydney: Harriet Tatham)
You have 60 seconds to choose the five items to take with you when fleeing your home, only to lose half of your possessions to a hostile guard at the border crossing.
Next, you try and fill out a United Nations form, none of which is in English, before you fight for a lifejacket and board a tiny boat for Australia.
Refugee Camp In My Neighbourhood is an immersive tour and exhibition open now in Sydney’s west offering a glimpse into the experience thousands of Australians have been through.
While the simulation can be a confronting experience, it’s easy to spy a Hills hoist from inside the Auburn Community Centre’s mock tent city and be reminded you’re still in Australia.
But the issue of global displacement is not as easy to forget.
Guides share their experiences about their journeys to Australia. (ABC Radio Sydney: Harriet Tatham)
At the simulated border crossing, this guard took half of your possessions. (ABC Radio Sydney: Harriet Tatham)
44,400 people fleeing each day
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has estimated that 44,400 people are forced to flee their homes each day worldwide.
In 2016, it said the number of people forcibly displaced was around 68.5 million — more than two-and-a-half times the population of Australia.
The Cumberland local government area hosts one of the highest number of refugees in Australia, which organisers say serves as the motivation behind running the event.
“Over the years more than 20,000 people have come to this area as refugees,” said Mia Cox, the community participation officer at Cumberland Council.
“Particularly around the Auburn area, we’ve got one of the highest numbers of people seeking asylum, so it’s a significant population of people in our community.”
After a short introduction, you have 60 seconds to write the five things you’d take with you if fleeing your home. (ABC Radio Sydney: Harriet Tatham)
As soon as you make it through the border crossing, you’re handed paperwork to fill out that isn’t in English. (ABC Radio Sydney: Harriet Tatham)
15,000 people through the camp
The initiative has been running for five years, with around 15,000 people taking part since its inception.
The two-hour guided tour is run entirely by people who have first-hand experience with the refugee experience, Ms Cox said.
“The tour guides are all people who are from refugee and asylum-seeking backgrounds, so they have that lived experience and that’s what makes this project really unique.
“They can share aspects of this journey because they’ve lived through it.
“I think a lot of us have questions about things that we don’t really understand, like why would we have to make a journey or why would people end up coming to Australia?”
The experience includes hearing stories from those who arrived in Australia by boat. (ABC Radio Sydney: Harriet Tatham)
Ms Cox said the tour created the opportunity for participants to have their questions answered.
Mr E (not his real name) is a refugee from Syria. He’s been in Australia for almost five months and believes sharing his experience can help to tell the real story behind seeking asylum.
“All the media around the world, they don’t have this clear image about why people leave their countries.”
The exhibition includes a choose-your-own-adventure experience. (ABC Radio Sydney: Harriet Tatham)
He said people who believed asylum seekers came looking for a comfortable life were ignorant of the need to escape.
“They don’t know about the suffering.
“I used to study pharmacy — and play soccer too — my mark was 96 per cent in my high school.
“I’ve been in Australia for four months. I have big dreams here. I am playing soccer and trying to get into university.”
‘Refugees are human’
The tent city is like those you would find at refugee camps around the world. (ABC Radio Sydney: Harriet Tatham)
Afghani refugee Shukria Akbari, who also works as a tour guide for the project, said exposure to the refugee experience could help to create more understanding.
“If they come and see and experience the life of a refugee, they would have better knowledge of the refugee life,” she said.
“It is important for every individual to know that refugees, they are also human. They have the right of getting an education, they have the right to leave safely.”
Refugee Camp In My Neighbourhood will run until August 10, with a market day to be held on August 4.
The exhibition also includes paintings, photos and writing from refugees about what they expected from Australia. (ABC Radio Sydney: Harriet Tatham)