Tag Archives: refugees

Book Review: American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

This is a heart-thumping, gripping story about a woman and her son running for their lives from a murderous drug lord.

Lydia Perez, a book shop owner in Acapulco lives with her journalist husband and eight-year-old son, Luca. After her husband writes a story about the leader of a drug cartel who had unknowingly formed a friendship with Lydia, revenge is sought and he murders all of her family. Lydia and Luca, the only survivors flee for their lives and commence the hazardous and tortuous journey to the USA.

This is ultimately a story of survival as refugees. The UN Refugee Agency estimates as at 30 June 2020 that the number of people forcibly displaced is now at 80 million with over 26 million refugees.

Cummins shines a light on one part of the world where the flow of refugees is not just from Mexico but from countries to the south, where drug lords’ rule and government corruption is rife. It’s an incredibly moving, yet gripping account of Lydia’s and Luca’s survival and the refugees they meet along the way. It also highlights the problems of ‘that wall’ so controversial in the USA.

‘None of it is funny to Lydia. She hadn’t been naive enough to think they were in the clear yet, but she did think the nature of the most pressing threat would’ve changed by now. She thought that … she’d have to worry more about Border Patrol, about the possibility of Luca being taken from her, and less about random men with guns enforcing their own decrees … She knows that anyone they encounter here, in this wild, desolate place, would mean the end.’

The story although fictional, forces the reader to relate to refugees as human beings. What compels a person to leave everything behind to take such a hazardous and arduous journey? It’s quite simple: desperation. The mean-spiritedness of some governments around the world is deplorable yet the plight of refugees continues without solution.

This is an unputdownable, nerve-wracking, tension-packed novel, yet it provides hope and inspiration. The character of Luca, in particular is very well drawn and the courage and bravery of the child is truly breath taking. The other characters, Lydia, Rebeca and Soledad are more than characters. They are people we care about, wanting them to be saved and to have a better life.

Do Lydia and Luca actually make it across the border? You’ll have to read it for yourself.

Book Review: No Friend but the Mountain: Writing from Manus Prison by Behrouz Boochani

This is a book every Australian should read. But I warn you that it’s a hard one to get through. It’s confronting and uncomfortable, mostly because each of us will feel complicit in allowing our various governments to treat our refugees so badly.

It’s not meant to be a literary masterpiece, instead the writing is a remarkable stream of consciousness smuggled out by text from Manus Island where Boochani was held prisoner for five years. That in itself is an incredible accomplishment deserving of our time to read and absorb every word.

We, Australians have known it as the Manus Island Regional Processing Centre or the Manus Island Detention Centre and after reading Boochani’s account of what life was like, it’s actually worse than any modern day prison – it’s more like a concentration camp.

Boochani relays everything about his experience, and his observations are insightful and confronting. It’s a commentary of humanity under duress and he paints a painstaking and brutal picture in both narrative and poetry. He and other refugees endured cruelty, hardship and tortuous conditions designed to bring them down. What makes someone want to flee their home and take a hazardous boat trip to a place they hope will give them a better life? It’s only someone truly desperate. Yet these refugees were used as pawns in a political plot from which there was no escape.

“We are hostages – we are being made examples to strike fear into others, to scare people so they won’t come to Australia. What do other people’s plans to come to Australia have to do with me? Why do I have to be punished for what others might do?”

This book is more than a description of what life was like for Boochani. It’s an academic analysis of the Australia’s border system described as systematic torture which he labels as the Kyriarchal System.

“The term Kyriarchy was first used by radical feminist theologian Elizabeth Fiorenza in 1992 to describe intersecting social systems of domination and oppression… the term also captures the way the intersecting systems are perpetually reinforced and replicated. This important aspect connects the prison with Australian colonial history and fundamental factors plaguing Australian society, culture and politics. “

You may agree or disagree with Boochani’s analysis but it’s thought provoking. There are numerous examples cited which breached basic human rights, particularly freedom. Use of the telephone was limited, food sparse, communication with the outside world non-existent, disgusting sanitary conditions, and nothing to do.

“A few people were able to get hold of a permanent marker and draw a backgammon board onto a white plastic table. They began to play, using the lids from water bottles as counters. Almost instantly, a group of officers and plain-clothed guards entered … crossed out the game. They wrote over it in bold letters, “Games Prohibited’.”

It was a very difficult book to read during the time of our own lock-down. Then I read a tweet dated 27 March 2020, saying the following: “the refugees being detained at the Mantra Hotel are not being given any soap. ABF (Australian Border Force) said they can apply for it in writing and would take 14 days to approve. “

Don’t we all put our trust in our governments that they will ensure people will be treated with fairness, respect and dignity? This book tells us not to count on it. 

Book Review: The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

This is a disturbing book, beautifully written,  as well as shocking.

It opens in Saigon in April 1975 in the villa of a General of the South Vietnamese army. His right hand man, the Captain, unbeknownst to the General and anyone else is an undercover Vietcong agent. In the chaos of defeat, the Captain, the General and numerous others flee Vietnam and make it to America where the Captain continues his spying activity. The Captain finds himself in a dilemma and the opening lines hook you in. “I am a spy, a sleeper, a spook, a man of two faces… I am simply able to see any issue from both sides.”

Reading this gripping Pulitzer Prize winning novel, I felt the constant tug of being in two minds. The Captain is the son of a peasant woman and a French priest which makes for an unhealthy start in life as he is ridiculed and treated as an outsider, eternally in conflict.

Having watched movies and read about the Vietnam War, it has only ever been from a Western point of view. This novel paints a very different picture. In America, the Captain is assigned the job of being a cultural adviser to the director of a movie about the war which we soon realise is Apocalypse Now.

“An audience member might love or hate this Movie, or dismiss it as only a story, but those emotions are irrelevant. What mattered was that the audience member, having paid for a ticket, was willing to let American ideas and values seep into the vulnerable tissue of his brain and the absorbent soil of his heart.”

There are many side observations like this throughout the narrative which makes the reader think and reflect. There are also moments of pure comedy bordering on the ludicrous which is an antidote to the horror of what people are forced to do during a war. The Captain’s torment grows with the ghost of deeds done past and present.

The first half of this book pummels you along, the middle is reflective and as times slow with the end almost unbearable to read. Yet it is an important book for all sides of politics and philosophies.

Put this one your list.

It’s World Refugee Day

I can’t imagine being displaced from the safety and security of my home. I can’t even fathom what it’s like  to survive without food, friends, family and shelter. I can’t visualise being surrounded by so much hate, gunfire, shelling and death. I can’t contemplate a fear so chilling that I’m forced to take an incredible risk to get out of a dangerous situation.

Yet one person on the planet every two seconds flees on foot, by vehicle or boat to escape and seek sanctuary elsewhere. I wonder why anyone would risk a buffeting sea until I actually consider the environment of where they’ve come from.

June 20 is World Refugee Day. There were 51.2 million refugees reported in 2013 which exceeded the numbers after WW2. This has grown to an extraordinary and record number of 68 million refugees in 2017. While  conflicts in Syria, South Sudan, Afghanistan, Myanmar and Congo areas continue,  the numbers of displaced people will grow.

According to the United Nations Refugee Agency’s (UNHCR) recent report, one in every 110 people on our planet is a refugee, internally displaced or is seeking asylum. It’s a staggering figure but what is even more tragic is that 25 million are under the age of 18.

Most of us in the Western world are very fortunate and we all have a responsibility to do something whether it’s to support organisations who help refugees such as the UNHCR (http://www.unhcr.org/uk/), agitate our own government and elected officials or simply take the time to reflect and change our attitude and mindset about our fellow human beings.

Many of us would no doubt have relatives or ancestors who were refugees. Indeed, within my own family there are refugees from WW2 and the Greek Civil War.

Refugees don’t choose to run because they want to, they’re put into a position where they simply have to.

Still Waiting For An Answer …


“The Age” 25 September 2016

It’s been seven days since I wrote my open letter to  Malcolm Turnbull and Kelly O’Dwyer without the courtesy of a response or acknowledgment. Did I expect anything? Quite frankly, no.

What I didn’t expect was the overwhelming response by so many of you to my letter which was shared with hundreds of people. I didn’t expect an extract to be published in ‘The Age’ newspaper either.

Thanks everyone for your support – it means a lot.

Meanwhile the young man I met last week still languishes with no end to his detention in sight, along with all the others on Manus Island.

So what’s next?

I  will follow-up with Kelly and Malcolm today seeking an answer to my question, “What are you going to do about releasing all 850 odd asylum seekers on Manus Island and when?”

In the meantime, why don’t you write a letter to your Member of Parliament? Just ask the same question too.