City of Thorns

“No one wants to admit that the temporary camp of Dadaab has become permanent,” Ben Rawlence writes in his haunting book City of Thorns. Ben visited the camp for the first time as a researcher for Human Rights Watch. The next year he City of Thornsreturned for what would be the first of seven separate visits to follow and write about the lives of nine inhabitants.

I highly recommend this book because it gives those of us from a privileged background real insight into everyday life in a refugee camp.

He captures the daily lives and stories of nine people caught in limbo at Dadaab. The camp was originally founded in 1992 to serve the 90,000 refugees fleeing Somalia’s civil war. No one imagined that an entire generation of children would be raised there, or that so many more refugees would rush in, as the political chaos and famine in Somalia continued. “Neither the past, nor the present, nor the future is a safe place for a mind to linger for long,” he continues. “To live in this city of thorns is to be trapped mentally, as well as physically.”

I met Ben at the Perth Writers Festival and was fortunate enough to interview him on a panel with other writers. He is deep thinker who has witnessed the best and worst of humanity. He articulated what I have come to understand – thousands of people in many different refugee camps around the world have little hope of leaving. They are waiting for a new beginning that sadly may never come.

He mixes the portraits of the camp’s residents with big-picture accounts of the regional turmoil that drove them there (famine, the ascendance of Al Shabaab, corruption in the government and civil war). I was interested in his style of writing and the desire to personalise the stories of refugees and give context about countries and the situations they face because it is the way I wrote More to the story- conversations with refugees.

His stories about the people in Dadaab are brutally honest and insightful.   I found as a reader I became invested in their lives. What happened to Muna and Monday and the others? I worried about Guled, a former child soldier, and my heart ached for Kheyro and her determination to get an education. After many years in camp Muna and Monday were some of the lucky ones to be re-settled in Australia.   I breathed a sigh of relief but Ben explained at the Festival that while their lives were safe, unfortunately things had not gone well since they arrived. Sometimes that is the reality when people arrive in a new country and face other challenges on top of the trauma they may have already experienced.

The book demonstrates extraordinary human resilience and the choices people have to make to survive.

City of Thorns by Ben Rawlence is published by Portobello, 2016.

Right Now Review

I was thrilled to see that Right Now has recently published a very positive review of my book linking it to the on-going debate about refugees and asylum seekers in Australia. Even though the book was published in November last year, these human stories continue to be lived and repeated over and over again, every day, in most parts of the world.

Right Now is a volunteer, not-for-profit media organisation that focuses on human rights issues in Australia. It bases its work around the belief that creating a positive, rights-respecting culture in Australia begins with the flow of information. I particularly like and relate to their vision: An Australia where people have informed and inspired discussions about human rights, equality and justice. Right Now’s work is vitally important and it is well worth following if you have an interest in human rights.

Here are some extracts of the review:

“More to the Story: Conversations with Refugees is a vital contribution to understanding the complex tapestry of the human experience that refugees bring with them when they embark on their journeys and settle in their new countries.”

“More to the Story: Conversations with Refugees expertly weaves together not only conversations with refugees but the historical and socio-political backdrops that have forced them to flee their countries for shelter in Australia. As Australia’s treatment of refugees and asylum seekers increasingly becomes a political and moral issue, it is well worth reading this book to hear authentic voices.”

You can read the full review here.

Article in The West

A big thank you to William Yeoman from The West Australian newspaper, who wrote a great article about the morning we spent recently chatting with Fauzia Sufizada and Paul Kyaw, two of the people featured in my book. In case you missed it in the Weekend West on 2-3 January, the full article is now online. Thank you too to the Centre for Stories in Northbridge for hosting our morning tea. William has also written a review of the book – you can read that on the Reviews page.

west photo


Latest reviews

I’m very pleased to see some good reviews emerging for More the story – conversations with refugees. The latest one is from Steven Carroll from the Sydney Morning Herald, the Age and Canberra Times:

“This collection of refugee’s tales goes behind the headlines and policy debates to put a human face to the issue that has divided the country for years. Among those Sayer interviewed is Paul, one of many Karen people from Burma who fled the country because pro-democracy protesters were being shot by government forces. Paul narrowly missing a massacre. And John, who left Afghanistan because the Taliban were cleansing the country of the Hazara people and he would have been shot or dismembered had he not taken a leaky boat to Australia, where he is now a community leader. One of his sons plays for Cambridge United in the UK second-division. There are many stories of tragedy and triumph here that the country might hear one day above the sloganising.”

To read more reviews please go to the Reviews page.