U.K. Residents Flip Out When They Get a Hint of What Life Is Like in Syria

One British woman thinks she's in a parallel universe when there's no food at her local market.
Aug 27, 2015·
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

Food-price spikes and shortages, no access to medical care, and schools fenced off with barbed wire. Thanks to civil war, for the past four years people living in Syria have experienced gruesome violence and the denial of their basic human rights. It’s why Syrians have fled the country in droves, leading to a massive refugee crisis that has rocked Europe this summer.

Yet as the horrific photos of people living in squalid camps across the continent make the news, some politicians have been stoking fears that migrants want to take advantage of Europe’s social and economic benefits—and so should be turned away.

But walking in someone else’s shoes tends to be an empathy-generating eye-opener—which is why Save the Children headed to the U.K., hired actors, staged situations similar to what’s been happening in Syria, and let British citizens get a taste of the horrors refugees are trying to escape.

The nonprofit used hidden cameras to record the reactions of British citizens in Surrey, a county on the outskirts of London, and angry residents couldn’t believe what was happening.

The clip is narrated and produced to seem like an actual reported news story. We see footage of armed guards asking citizens for identification, shuttered entrances to schools, people going into markets and not being able to buy food, and a fake ambulance not being able to get through a pretend checkpoint.

“What’s going on? Have we entered a parallel universe or something?” one confused woman asks in an empty shop. Other folks aren’t so calm about the scenarios they find themselves in. “I don’t want to lay my hands on you, mate,” an outraged passerby says to the guard who has set up the fake checkpoint.

The Surrey police helped Save the Children with the stunts, and the organization is careful to state that no one was harmed. But that’s not always the case for Syrians who encounter similar situations.

“When these scenarios were faced by Surrey citizens, it was unacceptable to passersby, who risked their own safety to uphold the rights of their children and community; rights to food, health care and schooling. But just because it isn’t happening here doesn’t mean it isn’t happening," Justin Forsyth, CEO of Save the Children, said in a statement.

Since the start of the conflict in 2011, more than 250,00 people have been killed in Syria, and about 7.6 million have been displaced from their homes, according to the United Nations. “If the average European citizen would not stand for being cut off from food, healthcare and schooling, why should Syrian families?” Forsyth said.