Refugee Week Book Blog: Refugee Tales

Refugee Tales Volume 2

At the beginning of June, I went to the Derby Book Festival event about Refugee Tales. During the event, Patrick Gale and Marina Lewycka spoke about the Refugee Tales project and the experience of producing this book. The book I am reviewing today is the third volume in the series, telling the stories of people who have been detained by immigration. Most of the stories relate to people held in the UK; however there are also stories from further afield.

As background to this collection, the Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group (GDWG) is a group of around 70 volunteers who visit and befriend people being held in the Gatwick Detention Centre. One of the shocking facts that I learnt at the Book Fair event, is that the UK is the only country in Europe that detains people indefinitely under immigration rules. The GDWG is campaigning for an end to indefinite detention. One of their outreach projects is Refugee Tales.

This series of books aims to give a voice to those who have been detained, raising awareness of the impact of detention on people’s lives. They take their inspiration from the Canterbury Tales and the idea of journeying. People who have left detention are introduced to writers who then write their story. Writer Patrick Gale described himself as a vessel, a scribe to whom a story is told to put down on paper.

The tales themselves are heartbreaking. They tell of a man who becomes a father, who within 14 hours of his son’s birth is taken from his room in detention for deportation, saved only by a technical problem with the aircraft. They tell of a young man who has spent his teenage years in England, who, once he turns 18, has to reapply to remain in the UK. He can no longer work. He can longer study. He is detained and after many requests for a single phone call, is eventually allowed to call his girlfriend to say he can’t collect her daughter from nursery. They tell of a pregnant lady, passed from person to person while she tries to receive appropriate medical care. They tell of an educated man who “disappears” in the system. Stories of an incompetent system, of seeing a different person at every meeting and of unprepared officials.

The way people’s lives are turned upside down in the blink of an eye is incredible. Someone turns up to sign in and instead they are detained, without their belongings, without a word to anyone. It has been eye-opening to hear how people are treated by the authorities in our own country and I feel indignant and angry on their behalf. One detainee asks: “I heard that you had human rights in the UK, but where are those rights?” This is another book to read and then pass to someone else to raise awareness of how people are treated in our country.

The other thing that Refugee Tales does is organise a week long event called “Walking with Refugees”. This year the group is walking from Brighton to Hastings in solidarity with refugees. Each day culminates in the telling of one of the tales. For more details, please see their website.

This third volume of Refugee Tales goes on sale in July and is available here. Many thanks to Comma Press for the advance copy.

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