The frustration in the room was palpable.

It was almost like a physical presence in the large classroom at the Ashland University Columbus Center on East Dublin-Granville Road as a cross section of central Ohio residents learned what it's like to live like a refugee.

They found out they definitely wouldn't want to do it.

Officials with Northland-based Community Refugee & Immigration Services sponsored the Sept. 18 event. It was attended by around 45 people, mostly white but with African-Americans and other ethnicities also represented.

"Refugee Resettlement: An Interactive Experience" in no way replicates what people forced to flee their countries really endure, said Tyler Reeve, a community outreach coordinator with CRIS. Rather, he said, the interactive scripts given to the volunteers were intended to give them a "glimpse of post-arrival life."

"Hopefully, this will be educational, informative," Reeve said.

It was frustrating, participants admitted as the two-hour experience wore on.

Reeve showed a slide that outlined what constitutes a refugee, as defined by the United Nations:

"A refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Most likely, they cannot return home or are afraid to do so. War and ethnic, tribal and religious violence are leading causes of refugees fleeing their countries."

Once refugees leave home, they face three options, Reeve said. One is repatriation, but that can take years. Another is assimilation into a nearby host country, but in many instances, refugees may not find jobs or send their children to school.

The third option, Reeve said, is resettlement into a third country, which is what the interactive experience was about. Worldwide, he said, fewer than 1 percent of refugees are resettled.

As people arrived for the activity, they were assigned the identity of refugee families.

These "families" were assigned tasks -- like enrolling children in school, purchasing groceries, paying rent -- interacting with a CRIS employee posing as an official with Franklin County Job and Family Services. The CRIS personnel at each station, many of them former refugees themselves, spoke only their native language when approached by the English-speaking "refugees." For example, Jhuma Accharya, representing Job and Family Services, would only reply in Nepali when asked for assistance.

The simulation involved four 12-minute weeks, Reeve said, with weekends lasting three minutes.

"It feels like that," one woman said.

As participants moved from station to station, frequently being stymied by the language barrier, Beth Dies of the Northland area said she began to learn a harsh lesson.

"It's frustrating," she said. "It's hard not to know where to go for help."

"It's pretty frustrating," said Gary Stofle of Westerville. "I feel for these folks and the difficulty they have."

"The object of resettlement is to have refugees be self-sufficient," Accharya said during a debriefing following the end of the 48-minute "month."

But agencies like CRIS are supposed to help people reach that goal in only 90 days, which "goes by in the blink of an eye," he said.

"I hope you learned very many things," Accharya said. "It is a long journey, but people can make it."

kparks@thisweeknews.com

@KevinParksTW1