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Unit plan for ages 9-11 in Geography: Refugees - Who, Where and Why?

Teaching Tools, 24 March 2007

© Brett Phibbs/The New Zealand Herald
A perilous journey ends in New Zealand citizenship. The Tampa Boys, rescued from the Norwegian freighter off the Australian coast in 2001, at the ceremony in Manukau, NZ. Photo courtesty of and



  • To gain a general understanding of refugee issues
  • To understand clearly;
    • a) the concepts of migration, emigration, immigration
    • b) the definition of a refugee
    • c) the concept of asylum
  • To see that the refugee crisis is a world wide one
  • To become more familiar with the regions which are often in the news, areas which generate refugees and which give asylum
© UNHCR/A.Hollmann
Refugees at a reception centre in Hungary face mounting challenges in employment, housing, health care and education.


  • To encourage in the students empathy for children similar to themselves, who have lost their homes and homelands
  • To foster open-mindedness and respect for others
  • To increase global awareness in the students, expanding the boundaries of their experience


  • To strengthen discussion and written expression skills
  • To improve and strengthen map reading skills
  • To have some fun!

LESSON 1: Make a Little Difference

The experience of refugee children throughout the world.


Brief open-ended question by the teacher: "What do you think a refugee is?" Consider student answers, then lead in to the video To be a Refugee.


To be a Refugee lasts 15 minutes. Be prepared to stop the video from time to time to explain or ask questions.

Activity Sheet

Students begin answering questions from the activity sheet. The teacher should ask the students to read out their answers (especially with a younger class) and stimulate discussion.

© Courtesy of Paris Match/Thierry Esch, October 2006
Most of the refugees at Al Tanf fled their homes in Iraq because of harassment, death threats, arrests or killings. Despite the hardship, they feel safer in no man's land.

Video: To be a Refugee (Geneva, UNHCR, 1999), available free of charge, from the UNHCR Public Affairs Unit, Case Postale 2500 CH-1211 Genève 2 Dépôt, Suisse.

Activity Sheet: To be a Refugee

Teachers' Guide: To Be a Refugee: Video and Teachers' Guide (1999)

LESSON 2: Why Do People Leave Their Home Countries?


Reasons for migration

1. Push factors:

  • Unemployment
  • Economic hardship
  • Disasters (drought, famine)
  • Ecological degradation
  • Persecution
  • War

2. Pull factors:

  • Employment
  • Better economic opportunities (desire for a better life)
  • Safety


Refugees are people who flee their country because of a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership of a particular social group. A refugee either cannot return home, or is afraid to do so.

Questioning with blackboard summary

Based on the discussion and the video from the previous lesson, the teacher and students build a blackboard summary covering CONTENT topics.

© UNHCR/A.van Genderen Stort, July 2004
Living conditions in Ruweished camp are harsh, with hot desert storms in the summer and freezing nights in the winter.

Suggested readings for the teacher

Jill Rutter, Refugees: We Left Because We Had To (London, Refugee Council, 1996), p. 10-11.

UNHCR, The State of the World's Refugees 1995:
In Search of Solutions
(Oxford, OUP, 1995), p. 19-40, p. 82-89.

LESSON 3: Where Do Refugees Come From? Where Do They Go?


Definition of a refugee and various associated terms such as persecution, civil war and asylum.

Identification of countries of origin of refugees and of countries which have given them asylum.

Link to previous lesson

Quick recall questions: Why do people leave their home countries?


Students complete Activity Sheet: Refugees
- Who, Where and Why?
which contains questions and definitions to aid students in learning about refugees.


Students learn the placement of the countries of origin of the refugees and the countries of asylum on a world map through playing "geographical bingo". (See lesson plans for construction of the game).

© UNHCR/A.van Genderen Stort, July 2004
Because life in the no-man's land was so hard and dangerous, the camp's population of Palestinians and Iranian Kurds was transferred to Ruweished. In 2006, another group of Iranian Kurds got stranded between the borders.

Activity Sheet: Refugees Who, Where and Why?

Suggested reading for teachers

UNHCR, The State of the World's Refugees 1995:
In Search of Solutions
(Oxford, OUP, 1995), p. 12-13

Helping Refugees: An Introduction to UNHCR (Geneva, UNHCR, 1996), available free of charge, from the UNHCR Public Affairs Unit, Case Postale 2500 CH-1211 Genève 2 Dépôt, Suisse.

Refugees by numbers.

LESSON 4: Flight and Asylum


A more detailed study of selected regions of the world which have recently generated refugees and given asylum

  • Horn of Africa
  • Caucasus
  • Former Yugoslavia
  • Afghanistan/Iran/ Pakistan
  • West Africa
  • Great Lakes Region of Africa

Link to previous lesson

Quick recall questions


Use of more detailed maps of selected regions of the world.

Use of pie charts to demonstrate the proportion of refugees from each country in the selected region.



Asylum and Migration

Asylum and Migration

All in the same boat: The challenges of mixed migration around the world.

The 1951 Refugee Convention

The Geneva Refugee Convention has been instrumental in helping an estimated 50 million people restart their lives.

Prominent Refugees

An A-Z of refugee achievers around the world.

1951 Geneva Convention 50th Anniversary

Refugees Magazine Issue 123: 1951 Geneva Convention 50th Anniversary (complete magazine, 1.2Mb pdf)

Refugees Magazine Issue 148

Refugee or Migrant? Why it Matters.

The Hungarian Refugees, 50 Years On

Refugees Magazine Issue 144: Where Are They Now? The Hungarian Refugees, 50 Years On (complete magazine, hi-res, 2.6 Mb, pdf)

Refugee or Migrant - Why It Matters

Refugees Magazine Issue 148 ("Refugee or Migrant - Why It Matters") - Refugee or migrant?

Who, Where and Why?

Related news stories to Unit plan for ages 9-11 in Geography: Refugees - Who, Where and Why?

The 1951 Refugee Convention and 1967 Protocol

The most frequently asked questions about the treaty and its protocol.

Hungarian Crisis - 50th Anniversary

The spontaneous Hungarian uprising began on 23 October 1956. Two weeks later, the revolution was crushed by a Soviet military intervention, and by early 1957, 200,000 people had fled as refugees - 180,000 to Austria and 20,000 to Yugoslavia.

Hundreds of volunteers worked alongside international and local aid organizations to provide shelter and food, as the Austrians and the international community provided the refugees with an unprecedented level of support.

UNHCR was made 'Lead Agency' and, along with the Red Cross and ICEM, helped coordinate protection, assistance and a quite extraordinary resettlement programme.

Within two years, more than 180,000 Hungarians were resettled to 37 countries spanning five continents. The US, Canada, the UK, West Germany, Australia, Switzerland, France, Sweden and Belgium each accepted more than 5,000 refugees. Italy, the Netherlands, Israel, Brazil, Norway, Denmark, South Africa, New Zealand and Argentina all took over 1,000. The rest were spread around a further 19 countries ranging from the Dominican Republic to Turkey. Some Hungarians were integrated in Austria (8,000) and Yugoslavia (700), while 11,000 returned home voluntarily.

More in Refugees Magazine Issue N° 144: Where Are They Now? The Hungarian Refugees, 50 Years On (published October 2006) here

Hungarian Crisis - 50th Anniversary