Resources for Teaching about Refugees

Online searches result in an overwhelming number of resources for teaching about refugees. The following is a sample of the best to help you get started.

UNHCR – the United Nations High Commissioner for Refuges – is the place to begin. They offer a Teacher’s Toolkit differentiating between refugees, the internally displaced, and migrants. Their Teacher Resources include games, lesson plans, learning activities, online quizzes, photos, animated and live films created by HCR and Amnesty International, and personal stories, from WWII to the present. Easy to access activities for 21 European languages, and all age levels.  They also have a great poster of upturned faces in a refugee boat titled “The only thing stronger than fear is hope.  ”

Samantha Power,  former US ambassador to the UN, is eloquent on the subject of refugees. Here is her 2016 speech at the US Institute of Peace.

The Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (1951), ratified by 145 States, is the key legal document defining who can be called refugees, their rights, and the legal obligations of governments to protect them.

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) was founded in 1933 at the request of Albert Einstein. They welcome volunteers, and work in over 40 countries and 26 US cities. One of their most recent efforts is a partnership with Sesame Workshop, the education arm of Sesame Street. By adapting already existing Muppets programs in culturally appropriate ways, they are working to develop pre-school content to help heal the youngest. You can also go on the IRC website to read the moving stories of the 10 greatest champions of refugees, write to thank them and use their products.

The ATLANTIC Magazine – “How Do You Rank Refugees?” wrestles with the question ‘What makes an asylum seeker from Syria needier than one from Sudan?’ Addresses issues of choice when funds are inadequate.

UNICEF-USA 30 Million Children On the Run: Portraits from Libya –August, 2015. A photo speaks 1000 words. Students can view, imagine, write and compare w/ the actual story. .

Teachunicef’s ACT magazine is geared for 2 levels –the Diplomat ed. (Gr. 3-5), Ambassador ed. (6-8). Their Children On The Move focuses on child refugees. Comes with teacher’s guide, and activities involving analysis of data, of photos and video, how to conduct fundraisers, and welcoming newcomers in schools. All materials are aligned to Common Core Standards.

Pew Research Center –“Key Facts About Refugees to the US” –Jan 30, 2017 discusses the origins of refugees and compares the number of Christians to Muslims in recent years.

OXFAM –focuses on the displaced children of Syria. Resource kit includes a teacher’s guide, PowerPoint presentations, lesson plans and a Youth Action Guide.

Against All Odds – an online educational game that simulates the experience of fleeing a country, is built on facts and short films, and comes w/ a teacher’s guide that includes exercises, discussion topics and extensive additional resources. Available in 12 languages.

WORLD SAVVY is a national non-profit that works with school districts to develop global competence k-12. They offer a case study including background info on why people migrate, essential questions for students, articles, websites, personal stories, videos, photos, data and maps.

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH –monitors human rights abuses worldwide. Every year, in June, they hold a film festival w/ the film society of Lincoln Center in NY. In 2016, a highlight was “The Crossing”, a powerful documentary that follows a small group of refugees on their nail-biting journey by sea to Greece, and the difficulties in assimilating when they disperse. 55 min. (1st Take Films ) On HRW’s website you can also find a current article and video titled “Greece: Refugees w/ Disabilities Overlooked, Underserved, “ and articles on many human rights issues.

NY TIMES op ed article “Bono: Time to Think Bigger About the Refugee Crisis” (April 12, 2016) The well-known singer and activist debunks ideas about refugees, where they live and the length of time they remain in camps, and, backed by officials of the World Bank and IMF, advocates for a new Marshall Plan to deliver development in the service of security. Nicholas Kristof, op ed columnist, also has a number of articles in the Times on refugees.


Short videos:

“When you Don’t Exist” imagines a scenario where migration flows would be reversed. As violent unrest causes Europeans to reach Africa, they are forcibly taken by authorities and jailed in refugee camps. 2min.10sec /2013 also full-length feature “ The Day After Tomorrow” where extreme climate change causes North Americans to seek asylum in Mexico – available on DVD)

“What They Took With Them” – based on a lyric poem by Jennifer Toksvig, inspired by stories and first-hand interviews w/ refugees 5:25/2016

“How One Friendship Transcended Barriers” 7 yr. old best friends  -one German, one Syrian illustrate acceptance and assimilation. 1:39/ 2016

“Malak and the Boat” – This is the first animated film of UNICEFs Unfairy tales, a series highlighting youngest refugees from diverse countries. 1:16/2016

“Mustafa Goes for a walk -One Year On” – This is the story, produced by UNICEF, of 14 year-old Syrian refugee Mustafa, w/beguiling personality and eagerness to learn, one year after his arrival in Germany.   2:2 /2016

“John Cho Tells the Story of a Syrian Teacher” – A teacher working in the camps talks about the need for patience, creativity when supplies are unavailable and his pride in a math student who succeeds beyond his expectations  OXFAM 2:29

“Two Refugees, Generations Apart” – The parallel stories, told in their own words, of Ahmad, a Syrian child and Harry, a WWII child refugee, illustrating the challenges that refugees continue to face. 2min. / 2017


Books about refugees:

Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder

The inspiring story of Deo Gratias, a Burundian student when the Rwandan crisis expanded into Burundi, and forced his harrowing escape. In NY, living in a carton in Central Park, reading dictionaries to learn English, and working as a delivery boy for Gristedes, he was rescued by a nun, and enabled to attend Columbia University. Modeling himself on Dr. Paul Farmer, he returned to Burundi and set up a village clinic there. NY: Random House, 2010

The Morning They Came For Us by Janine di Giovanni – A journalist who covered Syria for Vanity Fair, Newsweek, and the NY Times, tells the story of life in a jihadist war zone through the eyes of a doctor, a nun, a musician and a student. Amazon calls it ‘an unforgettable testament to resilience in the face of nihilistic human debasement.’

Outcasts United: An American Town, A Refugee Team, and One woman’s Quest to Make a Difference by Warren St. John – The extraordinary tale of a refugee youth soccer team, their coach – an American-educated Jordanian woman – and how it transformed the typical southern town of Clarkston, GA