Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Daily Archives: 31/03/2014

Syrian refugee crisis simulation

The following guest post is contributed by Prof. Mick Dumper, Department of Political Science, University of Exeter.

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This was a simulation I ran in February 2014 for my 3rd year module – Refugee Crisis and the Modern World– in which students study the international refugee regime, international refugee law, the durable solutions framework, refugees in post-conflict agreements and with plenty of case studies. For this simulation on the Syrian Refugee crisis, the class of 25 students was divided into 8 teams of approximately 3 students in each. Five teams were country actors including Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the Free Syria Army. The other three teams were UNHCR strategy planning teams who competed against each other.  As module convenor, I acted as the US, Russia, and the EU.

There were two sets of complimentary objectives.  Country and opposition actors were asked to compile a paper entitled Interests and Strategy Position on Syrian Refugees, taking into account the need to cooperate with other countries and international agencies. The paper would need to identify the main concerns of their state and plan a strategy that will involve cooperation with UNHCR and other actors to implement it. They would engage in bilateral meetings with the UNHCR teams and with other actors and offer some preliminary ideas at a press conference before formulating a set of proposals which will be presented at the final plenary.

The UNHCR strategy planning teams were asked to draw up the fundamentals of an Article that would be included in any future peace plan which addressed the issue of refugees and other displaced people. Working separately and in competition, they interviewed decision-makers through a combination of bilateral meetings with country actors and press conferences.  They presented their proposals at a final plenary session.

All the teams were provided with the same set of scenarios, a reading list and list of useful websites, a 4 week timeline and a simulation diary (see below) in which they would make appointments and prepare for meetings and press conferences.



At the final plenary, the teams not presenting were given a score sheet which accorded marks to aspects of their proposals.  These included possible views of the donor community, time line for implementation, degree of cooperation required with other actors etc.

The winning Country Actor team was the Syrian government! They came up with a credible and quite feasible, given the circumstances, set of proposals for limited repatriation of Shi’ite refugees and extensive resettlement and local integration.  The Syrian team actors wereElisabetta D’Addario, Christina Gannon and Amy Pryce.  The winning UNHCR team comprised: Ursula Heywood, Emma Rosen and Cordelia Wyche.  Their proposed Refugee Article managed to incorporate some of the more generic features found in other post-conflict negotiations concerning refugees with the specificities of the Syrian case, although the fast moving situation obliged certain aspects to be vaguer than they had intended.

In the main, the simulation worked well in providing an engaging vehicle for the students to apply the knowledge and understandings they had built up over the previous few months of studying refugee situations. The simulation took place over 4 weeks in 2 hour seminar sessions and was designed in this way in order to fit into the Exeter teaching timetable.  This was a major constraint and it broke up the continuity of discussion which led to a drop in numbers. Student feedback strongly recommended that in future the bulk of the activity should take place over one day and that they would be happy to give up a Saturday to participate. The simulation also coincided at a point in the academic cycle when students were focussing on assessed work deadlines and, as the simulation was not assessed, they were frank that, however enjoyable and instructive it may have been, it took a lesser place in their scale of priorities.  My concern that there would not be enough “activity” and competition between the teams over the course of the simulation was not reflected in the student comments, who felt the structure of bilateral meetings punctuated press conferences etc., by provided for enough change, dynamism and momentum in the simulation.

Mick Dumper 

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