Tuesday, 28 July 2009
Refugee Boy by Benjamin Zephaniah.
Definitely one to read. Recommend to anyone who wants or needs to know more about what refugees have been through before they arrive here - and what our authorities shamefully put them through to placate general ignorance and the press. Alem is taken and left by his father in London to escape persecution in Ethiopia and Eritrea for having parents on both sides of the divide. While his family story is ultimately desperately tragic, Alem shows real courage, and his friends at school in London, in his foster-family and the local community, stand up for him and his father as do many similar groups in this country when persecuted people are threatened with removal back to countries where their lives are in danger.
Zephaniah as ever tackles the subjects with realism - he dedicates this novel, aimed at the teen age range but there for all ages, to two boys he met, and he clearly has done his homework on this. The Refugee Council's work is also highlighted.
We don't have to give up - if we have any humanity, we should take note of these cases, and challenge the Home Office, the UK Borders Agency, and any such bodies as and when their policies and behaviour threaten and demean the well-being of the real-life equivalents of Alem and his father. Would you like to be beaten and escape with your life, only to be fingerprinted in a detention centre, would you want to queue with vouchers at a separate supermarket while locals with cash walk past you; to live in squalid housing where landlords only care about the money that comes through direct from authorities - and where you have no say because you fear the consquences if you do complain. Then your asylum application is turned down by a judge and system who seem to ignore at least half the evidence.
The tireless help of his foster family, the Fitzgeralds, the Refugee Council's Mariam and Sheila the social worker, the friends at Alem's school who organise the demonstration and petitions so impressively, show that there is hope.
Hope in life and in people - and the novel shows this, despite tragedy and offical coldness.
Published by Bloomsbury.