Using segments from the PBS program Wide Angle: Iraqi Exodus, students learn about refugee crises throughout history. In the Introductory Activity, students explore terms such as “refugees” and “internally displaced persons” and examine which countries currently supply and host the greatest number of refugees. In the Learning Activities, students explore the Iraqi refugee crisis and the challenges faced by both refugees and host countries. Students also explore UN and US policies towards refugees. In the Culminating Activity, students conduct research about a refugee population from the past and explore the roles organizations and governments have played in refugee crises.
Students will be able to:
- Define the terms “refugee,” “internally displaced persons,” “aliens,” “asylum seekers,” “economic migrants,” “returnees” and “stateless persons."
- List current refugee source and host countries.
- Describe the refugee crisis in Iraq and challenges that its refugees face.
- Describe challenges faced by host countries during refugee crises.
- Discuss UN and US policies toward refugees since 1948.
- Discuss one refugee group from the past and provide details about the group’s refugee crisis.
Three 45-minute class periods
The Iraqi Refugee Crisis Video
Coping with the Crisis Video
Going Home? Video
This website, which could be helpful in both the Introductory and Learning Activities, provides definitions for “refugee” and related terms, as well as a description of UN actions concerning refugees and the obligations they place on refugees and countries.
For the Introductory Activity:
This page includes definitions for “refugee” and related terms.
This page on the UN Refugee Agency’s website provides very clear and concise definitions for the words “internally displaced person,” “refugee” and other related terms.
This glossary, on the US Department of State’s website provides official definitions for “refugee” and related terms.
This section of the UN Refugee Agency website provides data about refugees, asylum seekers, returned refugees, internally displaced and stateless people. This site features a variety of reports, including the 2009 Global Trends Report.
This site provides current immigration statistics, including information about refugees and asylum seekers. The lesson also cites US Refugees and Alysees: 2009 stats.
For the Learning Activities:
This timeline on the Human Rights First website chronicles the US government’s response to the Iraqi refugee crisis.
This page on the United Nations’ website features the full text of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN in 1948.
This page features information about the Refugee Protection Act, proposed in 2010.
Before The Lesson
If you do not have a map of the world in your classroom, locate one on the internet to use during the lesson. One map you can use is available on the geology.com website.
Part I: Introductory Activity
1. Explain that this lesson is about refugees today and through history. Ask students to write down a definition of “refugee.” Ask students to share their definitions with the class.
2. Divide students into groups. Provide each group with 15 minutes to find the definitions to the following terms:
- asylum seekers
- economic migrants
- internally displaced persons
- stateless persons
[Note: The UN Refugee Agency, Refugee Council Online and US State Department websites provide definitions which could be helpful in this search. Seethe Media Resources/ Websites section for links and details.]
3. After the groups have found the definitions, ask students to share their findings with the class. Lead a discussion about each of the terms. Include the following information:
4. Discuss the difference between the following terms:
- Internally displaced persons and refugees (Refugees are people who have fled to a different country, while internally displaced persons are still within their home country.)
- Economic migrants and refugees (Economic migrants choose to leave their homes, while refugees have fled their homes due to persecution.)
5. Review students’ earlier definitions for “refugee” and ask them to revise their definitions based on the information they have gathered.
6. Explain that throughout history there have been different countries where refugees have come from and different countries that have hosted the refugees. Ask students to brainstorm what they think are the five countries where the largest numbers of refugees throughout the world come from today. (Note: Encourage students to think about refugees that have fled to countries throughout the world, including the US.) After they have brainstormed the countries,reveal the current statistics. See The UN Refugee Agency/ Statistics for current statistics. Here are the top five source countries from 2009:
- Afghanistan (2,887,100)
- Iraq (1,785,200)
- Somalia (678,300)
- Dem. Rep. of Congo (455,900)
- The Union of Myanmar (Burma) (406,700)
(Top 6-10: 6. Colombia (389,800); 7. Sudan (368,200); 8. Viet Nam (339,300); 9. Eritrea (209,200); 10. Serbia (195,600))
7. Display a map of the world. (An online world map can be found at geology.com). Note: If possible, use a classroom map or atlas or a printout of a map or project an online map onto a smartboard, so that you can label countries on the map.
8. On the map, locate the top 5 countries where refugees come from. Note: If possible, label the countries with post-it notes, etc. (If you don’t have current stats, identify the following countries, based on the 2009 stats: Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Dem. Rep. of Congo, and Myanmar (Burma).)
9. Based on the location of the source countries, ask students to brainstorm which countries they think host the most refugees. See The UN Refugee Agency/ Statistics for current statistics. (Note: In 2009, the countries that hosted the most refugees were 1. Pakistan (1,740,700 refugees hosted); 2. Islamic Rep. of Iran (1,070,500); 3. Syrian Arab Rep. (1,054,500); 4. Germany (593,800); 5. Jordan (450,800); 6. Kenya (358,900); 7. Chad (338,500); 8. China (301,000); 9. United States (275,500) and 10. United Kingdom (269,400).)
10. Point out that in 2009, the US hosted the 9th largest number of refugees (275,500) and that the largest numbers of refugees came to the US from 1. Iraq (18,838) 2. Burma (18,202) 3. Bhutan (13,452) 4. Iran (5,381) and 5. Cuba (4,800). For more stats about refugee stats in the US between 2007 and 2009, go to Refugees and Asylees: 2009.For current US stats, go to Homeland Security: Immigration Statistics.
Part II: Learning Activity 1
1. Let students know they will now be exploring the topic of refugees in more detail and will learn about the Iraqi refugee crises and the challenges Iraqi refugees face. Explain that they will now be viewing a segment from the PBS program Wide Angle:"Iraqi Exodus." Ask students to watch the segment to find out why the Iraqis are fleeing and where they are going.
2. Play The Iraqi Refugee Crisis. After showing the segment, ask students to list reasons why Iraqis have fled Iraq. (Possible answer: They are leaving because of the violence in Iraq, including suicide bombings and kidnappings.) Ask students where the most of the Iraqi refugees went. (Syria and Jordan.)
3. Ask students what they think the refugees’ life was like before they left their countries. Explain that in the following segment they will learn about how host countries are coping with the Iraqi refugee crisis and will hear an Iraqi refugee talk about his life as a refugee and his life before leaving Iraq. Ask students to observe how this man’s life has changed since leaving Iraq.
4. Play Coping with the Crisis. After showing the segment, ask students how Yussef’s life changed after leaving Iraq. (In Iraq, he worked as a civil engineer for 32 years and owned a house and many cars. In Jordan, he is not permitted to work. He has spent his savings and is now struggling to get by.)
5. Discuss the comments that Queen Noor of Jordan made at the end of the segment. (She views the social exclusion and marginalization of refugees as a serious problem with potentially dangerous consequences, and states no country can afford to have a large group of people feeling alienated, humiliated, desperate and hopeless. She believes if host countries like Syria and Jordan are not able to meet refugees’ basic needs and instill a sense of hope for the future, the consequences could be dangerous. She mentions that many people feel the US and Great Britain have a special responsibility since their policies in Iraq have resulted in the current humanitarian consequences. She believes it is in everyone’s interest to make sure the Iraqi refugee crisis doesn’t create further instability in the region.)
6. Ask students whether they think countries have an obligation to help refugees. Discuss what role they think the host countries should play. Discuss what role, if any, they think the US should play in the Iraqi refugee crisis and inother refugee crises throughout the world.
7. Optional: Explore and discuss the US government’s response toward the Iraqi refugee crisis. For details, view the related timeline on the Human Rights First website.
Part III: Learning Activity 2
1. Ask students to explore UN and US policies towards refugees since 1948. Divide students into groups and assign each group to research one of the following:
- The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948)
- The 1951 Refugee Convention (1951)
- Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees (1967)
- The 1980 Refugee Act (1980)
- Refugee Protection Act (proposed by Senator Patrick Leahy in 2010)
Ask each group to create a brief summary of the assigned act/declaration and how it impacts refugees.
2. After students have created their summaries, ask each group to present its information to the class. Some possible items to include inthe discussion:
- The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948): Adopted by the United Nations General Assembly December 10, 1948. It outlines equal rights for all individuals and states that everyone is born “free and equal in dignity and rights” and that everyone has the right to “life, liberty and security of person.” For more details, go to The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
- The 1951 Refugee Convention (1951): Designed to protect refugees from World War II.
- Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees (1967): Extended protection to all refugees (not just those from World War II).
- The 1980 Refugee Act: Codified into law the provisions of the International Protocol on the Status of Refugees. The President of the US, in consultation with Congress, is authorized to establish an annual ceiling on the number of refugees who may enter the United States. The president also is allowed to admit any group of refugees in an emergency.
- Refugee Protection Act (proposed by Senator Patrick Leahy in 2010): Provides more protections for refugees and asylum seekers. It eliminates existing 1-year waiting period for refugees and asylum seekers to apply for a green card and clarifies law to prevent innocent asylum seekers and refugees from being unfairly denied protection. (For more details, go to Refugee Protection Act of 2010.)
3. Lead a discussion with the students about the changes in policies toward refugees. Ask students to share their thoughts on the different laws and acts.
4. Review the definition of a refugee. Explain that a refugee often intends to return home when it is no longer dangerous back home and, in the following segment, Iraqi refugees in Syria choose whether or not to go back to Iraq. Ask students to identify reasons why the refugees choose to return home and why others choose to stay in the host country.
5. Play Going Home?. After showing the video segment, discuss reasons why some refugees return home and why others choose to stay in the host country. (Some choose to go home to escape the current poverty and lack of employment opportunities in the host country, which has limited resources and can’t handle the influx of refugees. Others choose to stay to protect themselves and their families from the violence and from the uncertainty of the current situation in their home country.)
Part IV: Culminating Activity
1. Explain that the issue of individuals being persecuted and fleeing their home countries is not new. There have been refugee crises for centuries and, in the following activity, the class will explore major refugee crises throughout history.
2. Ask each student or small group to select a group of refugees from the past and find out the following:
- Where were the refugees from?
- What was the problem? What was happening in their home country? Why were they fleeing?
- During which years did most of the refugees flee?
- Where did they go?
- How many refugees fled?
- What countries and organizations (if any) helped them? How did they help?
- How was this situation resolved?
Some refugee groups which students could research include:
- Hindus from Pakistan
- Muslims from India
3. Ask students to present their findings to the class, including details about the refugees’ home countries, their reasons for fleeing, where they went, the years of the refugee crisis, what countries/organizations helped them and how the situation ended.
4. Lead a discussion about refugee crises throughout history. Discuss different ways that organizations and countries have helped and/or refused to help refugees. (Include a discussion about the roles of United Nations, Doctors without Borders, Amnesty International, etc.) Ask students to share their thoughts about the roles that the US and other countries have played in past refugee crises and what they think the roles should be.
5. Optional: Brainstorm ways your class can help refugees from a specific country or region (by promoting awareness of the refugee situation, writing letters to advocate for that population, collecting clothing, food or other supplies). Implement one or more of the suggested actions.