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For several years, the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) – Canada has been offering a unique experience that was developed locally: A Journey into Exile. This simulation exercise serves to raise awareness of the realities and the humanity of refugees whose lives have been disrupted.

“In the Western world today, people do not have a very favorable opinion of refugees. Our goal is to help people gain a greater understanding of the plight of refugees in order to be in greater solidarity with them.” Norbert Piché, JRS – Canada national director

A Journey into Exile has been offered for years to in-person groups, and now it is also available in virtual format. Even before the pandemic, JRS – Canada wanted to use a more sophisticated technical approach in order reach a broader audience, within the context of JRS – Canada’s 40th anniversary celebrations. With its online version, the original experience can now be offered without geographical restrictions.

The Jesuits of Canada will host A Journey into Exile in June. Other sessions can be organized by the province apostolates or by any other organization, regardless of the location, through contacting JRS – Canada. To learn more about this initiative, we spoke with Yves Deschênes, communications & fundraising coordinator, JRS – Canada.

How did JRS – Canada manage to create an online experience from an in-person initiative?

We “re-scripted” the activity, integrating the tools offered by Zoom as well as by open broadcaster software (OBS). We also replaced “spoken” content with videos.

Our main objective was to ensure interaction with the participants. This was done through sustained animation, the direct participation of nine people in the course of the exercise, and opinion polls at each step along the way.

Can A Journey into Exile be of interest to all the apostolates of the province?

Yes! A Journey into Exile offers not only an opportunity to learn about the current situation of refugees through experiencing the creativity of a virtual environment but also a way to meet together (which has been difficult during the pandemic).

How does A Journey into Exile work?

The exercise includes videos of refugee testimonies, decision-making, survey responses, sharing of statistics, and discussion. Specifically, nine people are selected from three different regions of the world (Africa, the Middle East, and Central America), and they are given specific refugee identities. The rest of the people are asked to help the participants in their quest for asylum. Three of the nine participants will have the chance to reach a privileged place of asylum…

The activity is interspersed with recorded testimonies of refugees and ends with a small group discussion to share what has been experienced.

What are the next steps that you hope people will take after having participated in the role play?

We hope that after being confronted with the realities of refugees, the apostolates and other participants will want to share the exercise with their local communities, volunteer to help us with the organizational aspects, and stay in touch with us about our initiatives to help refugees (sponsorship, advocacy, and accompaniment of asylum seekers). In one instance, after participating in A Journey into Exile, CEGEP students decided to sponsor a young refugee.

Do participants appreciate the experience?

A number of people have shared their reactions. Here are just a few.

  • “This simulation is great. The theatrical aspect makes the experience unique and more personal than a traditional class.”
  • “What can I say? Your presentation and what you facilitated changed my entire perspective.”
  • “I feel like this experience has pushed me to make sure refugees feel welcome in society and made me realize how much they have done in order to simply survive.”



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