Davos 2014: The refugee experience for the wealthy

Refugee run Crossroads Foundation wants the experience to highlight the plight of refugees

The crisis in Syria is big news here at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Peace talks are taking place in Geneva, and I suspect that the situation is being discussed in detail by world leaders at Davos in some of the one-on-one meetings in hotel rooms that you never hear about.

If there is to be a solution in Syria any time soon, it will probably be found in Switzerland.

Even the business leaders here have noticed - this evening's reception with investment guru George Soros has been changed and is now a discussion about Syria.

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Their tales were so harrowing that I shouldn't write them here”

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And on one of Davos's quieter streets, a charity called the Crossroads Foundation is highlighting the plight of refugees, with an exercise called Refugee Run.

You don't need me to tell you about what a hard time people fleeing violence are having - the BBC sends excellent correspondents to trouble spots all over the world who can do that infinitely better than I can.

But this experience was different - this was an attempt to give the rich and powerful an insight into what it's like to be penniless and powerless.

Gunshots heard

One moment you are in a sunny, snowy street in one of the world's poshest ski resorts.

A refugee situation is simulated in Davos, Switzerland Many of the people simulating the experience had been refugees themselves

The next moment you are in a dark, smoky passage, crouching in straw. You have been stripped of your name and given an identity card.

Women covered their heads with scarves. Some men had even decided not to wear suits for the morning, and Davos delegates are almost never seen without suits.

We were crouching in the straw, being told urgently about how our people had been killed and we had to flee.

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My overwhelming feeling was of being glad to be going through it by myself, and not with family or friends”

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The lights went out, we heard gunshots, then we were made to run past a military checkpoint into a bigger room, with a corrugated iron shack, a market stall and several makeshift tents.

There were armed soldiers, who made us squat down and fill out forms, with our new identities.

I knew from my new identity card that I was supposed to be 32 years old, and I am usually pretty good with numbers, but as soldiers waved their AK47s, I just could not work out what year I had been born.

We bartered for food with whatever we had: mobile phones, shoes or wallets.

We kept being sent to the tents and threatened by soldiers. We were searched for guns. A dead body was found in the camp. There was gunfire. Women were taken away to be selected by the soldiers. There was chaos. Everyone kept their heads down, literally.

And then the simulation was over - I was so relieved.

Harrowing tales

It can't have taken more than about 20 minutes, but it felt much longer.

We were addressed by the people who had been our persecutors.

Participants in Refugee Run The Refugee Run made for a stark contrast with some of the other events at Davos

One of the soldiers had been a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo. One had been forced to become a child soldier in Uganda. Their tales were so harrowing that I shouldn't write them here.

We heard from an aid worker from the international aid agency Medair who had just returned from the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon. She had learned the Arabic word for "tomorrow", because she didn't have enough supplies to give everyone what they needed. "This wasn't what I expected when I became an aid worker," she said.

We heard from a specialist in helping traumatised children, from Mercy Corps. She talked about a 13-year-old boy she knew who was having to work very long hours and endure physical and sexual abuse from his boss so that he could earn enough to feed his mother and four sisters.

It was fascinating to hear from these people, but the Refugee Run experience was unpleasant and disorienting, as I assume it is meant to be.

My overwhelming feeling was of being glad to be going through it by myself, and not with family or friends.

And then it was all over. I stepped outside, and I was back in the snowy, sunny street in one of the world's poshest ski resorts.

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