African refugee camp comes to Prague

05-09-2007

You might be familiar with touring photo exhibitions like 'the Earth from the Air' pitching up in your town, but what about a touring refugee-camp? On Tuesday, Prague's Namesti Miru was transformed into a tent city as Medecins Sans Frontieres came to town. The humanitarian organization is in Prague until Sunday, exhibiting a model replica of an African refugee camp. On display are typical living quarters, hospital tents, a communal kitchen, and latrines.

But why? And to what effect? Earlier today, I went down there to find out how Czechs were reacting to the exhibit. Zdenek Rossmann from Medecins Sans Frontieres showed me around:

"These three tents that you see now in front of us, these are the typical tents which refugees live in, in the camps. So you can see some objects from their daily life - their toys that they make themselves from various odds and ends, you see some plates from which they eat, some kitchen utensils and things like that. So these three tents really show the normal life, the normal homes, of the refugees."

Why did you decide to set up this camp here in the heart of the city? To raise maximum awareness?

"Yes, to raise awareness about these camps. Because most people just don't know that there are places like this on earth. People are interested, and some of them are quite shocked, because some of them never knew. I know that they sometimes show camps like this on TV, but people just don't know."

So what do visitors make of this tent city? I stopped a few to find out:

"I love it. I always liked the organization, Medecins Sans Frontieres, and so I am really happy to see how they work and everything. I came yesterday but I was too late, but I looked at their website, at least."

"I just got here, and haven't had a chance to look inside. But you often see these things on TV and so forth, so I think I know what it looks like already."

"It's a surprise for me to see all this, shocking of course, because I never knew that it was such a big and horrible problem."

The exhibition moved here following a stint in Berlin. Lucia Duricova oversaw the move. She has also shown a number of Czech school groups around. She explains how the Czech public has reacted:

"The reaction is quite good. The schools like that they can touch, and they can see, and they can ask. Because there are 33 million refugees in the world, and this is something they might know, but they don't know how life for these people is. But here, we use the real tools that are used in the field, on missions. So, they can touch and they can ask our volunteers - some of whom have been on missions - our doctors and logisticians who have worked in the field, and who have real experience."

The weather is getting a bit autumnal and chilly out here, so is that affecting visitor numbers and how long people are sticking around for?

"Not really. I'm very surprised, but the mood is very good in the team as well, and the schools are coming, and people are walking by. And I'm really happy about the visitors, even families are walking past, and the people who have their lunch around here are stopping by and taking twenty minutes to ask us questions."

05-09-2007