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Prisoner of war

Think of prisoners of war held following an armed conflict. Does a happy, smiling family come to mind? It can when prison visits have been arranged. Use this powerpoint and a supply of interesting facts to explore what happens when families visit those held in detention. Find out how simple things can bring relief and reduce suffering.

A tempting mix of teaching ideas helps students discover the rules for visiting detainees. There are clues for a mini-quiz too - can students identify some of the countries where detainees are held?

Download the powerpoint.

Prison smiles

Show students the photograph. Give them a chance to scrutinise it. Then ask which of the following would be a relevant caption for it, and which wouldn't.

  • A family reunion
  • Prison visiting
  • An amazing journey

Discuss. Congratulate anyone who says that all three would be good captions. The family pictured have made a long journey that they would struggle to afford themselves. They've visited a close relative they haven't seen for years. And they have been to a detention centre.

Focus on the mood of those in the picture. It is dominated by good humour, high-spirits and laughter. It is like a holiday atmosphere. After discussion, in small groups or as a class, complete the sentence: "Meeting a relative held in detention makes people happy because...."

The woman and two children in the centre part of the photograph come from Baghdad. They have been to visit their husband and father in detention at the Chamchamal prison in the northern Kurdish region of Iraq. They had not seen him for 18 months. Some detainees in Chamchamal have not had visitors for many years. The man in the right foreground is from a different family, also visiting a detained relative.

The visits were arranged by the International Committee of the Red Cross which works to make sure the conditions that prisoners are held in are acceptable. It aims to ensure that detainees are treated with dignity and humanity. Why is this important for a group of people who are vulnerable in times of war?

By the end of the activity students will be able to say what benefits to personal well-being come from meeting family members held in detention.

Visits and reunions

Look again at the photograph and think about the importance of visiting, and its impact on people. Use this list of reasons why people go to so much effort to visit others. Rank them in order: which do students think are the most important and which the least? Add to them too.

Reasons for visits:

  • To remember the good times of the past.
  • To see how others have changed.
  • To be reassured that they are ok.
  • To have a good time and create new happy memories.
  • To exchange news and information.
  • To ask opinions and sort out problems.
  • To relieve boredom.

Would the reasons be the same from the point of view of the families compared to the detainees? Would the teenager and child hope for something different from their parents? Discuss whether meeting in person gives something that other forms of contact cannot. Is visiting someone in detention different from other forms of catching up - such as hospital visiting or meeting people you haven't seen for a long time at weddings or funerals? What are the similarities and differences?

For an imaginative writing exercise, invite students to pick one of the people in the photograph and imagine the report they might give of their visit to a detained relative. This could be social media status update, a text, email or letter. Use the list above to stimulate ideas.

By the end of the activity students will be able to identify specific benefits of visiting people in detention and give their view of the most important.

Doing the job properly

As well as arranging contact between detainees and their families, delegates from the International Committee of the Red Cross also visit detention centres. They set specific conditions for their visits:

  • They must be able to speak in total privacy with each and every detainee of their choice.
  • They must have access to all cells where detainees are held and also to other facilities such as kitchens, showers, infirmaries and punishment cells.
  • They must be allowed to repeat their visits as frequently as they choose.
  • They must be able to have confidential discussions with the authorities before and after each visit, where they can raise any concerns and make recommendations.

Go through each condition and explore why it matters. Ask what might happen if these conditions were not insisted on. How might ill-treatment or lack of humanity be covered up? Record students' reasoning and prepare it to present to others. This could be in the form of a series of posters, or role plays, or a drama of their devising. Be imaginative to communicate in a memorable way how dignity and humanity can be monitored.

By the end of the activity students will be able to describe the conditions under which the International Committee of the Red Cross will visit detention centres and explain the reasons for them.

Name the place

Where are detainees held? All over the world, wherever there is or has been an armed conflict. The statistics are sobering:

In 2011, International Committee of the Red Cross delegates visited 540,828 detainees held in 1,869 places of detention in 75 countries.

Invite students to name some of those 75 countries.

To help, use the descriptive clues or the anagrams, or both, as appropriate for the group. Answers are provided below.

1. A French-speaking African country with a current conflict that has seen recent large movements of civilians into neighbouring countries. Ilam

2. A country in the middle-east whose equivalent of a red cross emblem is a star. Silear

3. A country in south America bordering Panama and the Pacific ocean and named after a European traveller famed in legend as having "discovered America". Mialomboc

4. A country in north Africa whose capital means three cities in Greek. Yalbi

5. A country where UK forces are actively deployed, mostly in the southern provinces. Sananafight

6. A country which operates several detention facilities around the world, including one in Cuba. Dentui Tastes



1. Mali
2. Israel
3. Colombia
4. Libya
5. Afghanistan
6. United States

What else do students know about these places? How difficult do they think arranging visits to people in detention might be?

By the end of the activity students will be able to name and describe several countries in which prisoners of war or civilians are held in detention because of an armed conflict.


Life in Iraq

For many years the armed conflict in Iraq featured regularly in news bulletins. Do students think there has been less coverage since the US-led coalition withdrew their military forces at the end of 2011?

Invite students to say what they think life is like in Baghdad and other areas of the country. Then task them to research what they can from reliable sources. Can students find a photograph or a video clip online that tells them something they didn't know before about life for everyday citizens, perhaps for students of a similar age to themselves?

Arrange for presentations of students' discoveries.

By the end of the activity students will be able to describe some aspect of daily life in Iraq that they previously had been unaware of.


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