Publication date: June 2016
124% funded
325 backers
Cover of A Country of Refuge

An Anthology of Writing on Asylum Seekers from Britain and Ireland's Finest Voices edited

Most of the refugee stories we read about in the media are negative. But the reality for those fleeing persecution is more often about the emotional scars of torture and the struggles of building a new life. This anthology of new writings on asylum seekers is intended to directly challenge the negative press given to those seeking a safe haven on these shores as well as serving as a testament to the strength of the human spirit.

Britain has a long history of providing safe refuge to those fleeing conflict, poverty or terror and it is something we should be proud of. Using the works of celebrated writers is one sure way to generate more positive perspectives regarding asylum seekers. Writers are uniquely placed to challenge pre-conceived ideas and stereotypes because of their understanding of the power of words and ability to articulate truths.

Building on the success of the landmark Australian publication, A Country Too Far, this sister anthology will incorporate the work of Britain and Ireland’s finest writers including: Hassan Abdulrazzak, Sebastian Barry, William Boyd, Kate Clanchy, Amanda Craig, Moris Farhi MBE, Elaine Feinstein, Tim Finch, Sue Gee, Stephen Kelman, A.L Kennedy, Hanif Kureishi, Marina Lewycka, Hubert Moore, Courttia Newland, Ruth Padel, Katharine Quarmby, Noo Saro Wiwa, Joan Smith, Roma Tearne, Rose Tremain and Alex Wheatle MBE.

A Country of Refuge will include newly commissioned fiction, memoir, poetry and essays and is intended to make a positive and vital contribution to the national debate.

Lucy Popescu is a writer, editor and critic with a background in human rights. She was director of English PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee from 1991 to 2006 and co-edited the PEN anthology, Another Sky in 2007, featuring the work of persecuted writers from around the world. The Good Tourist, her book about ethical travel and human rights, was published in 2008. She volunteers with Freedom from Torture (FFT) as a creative writing mentor working with survivors of torture so understands very well the problems faced by asylum seekers in this country and abroad. Lucy edited FFT’s most recent anthology, Body Maps, published in 2011 and Moving a Country by Jade Amoli-Jackson, a refugee writer, in 2013. She is well connected with other organisations working for/with refugees.



Many thanks to Free Word, an international centre for literature, literacy and free expression, for the use of space to film this video.
Find out more at Free Word Centre


The Blue Scarf by Roma Tearne from the collection The Dark Side Of The World

It was cool on the beach. And empty. The fishermen had already gone leaving only the marks from their boats in a long unbroken line on the sand. We stood, half hidden by a coconut tree and stared out to sea. Stared at the thin blue line that signified eternity. I sensed without hearing that Kirthika was crying but I didn’t turn round. I knew what she was thinking.

That on this beach a girl was raped by the army. That on this beach a man was killed. That blood was spilt in our name and the names of all the people of this island.

That we loved this place. That nowhere else on earth would ever be home. Eyes, I thought, look your last.

Further up the coast a festival was in progress. The rich and the famous from western nations were in attendance. For a few brief days they too could stand looking at the horizon line. But they would never see what we saw in that moment. They could not love this land as passionately as we did. How could the tailorbird’s call signify anything special to them? For us it is the birdsong of childhood, heralding a lullaby at twilight, a mother’s hand stroking her son’s head. Part of a young girl’s dreams. No the tailorbird could not mean all this to the visitors on the island.

Kirthika was crying in earnest by now. From the corner of my eye I saw her, head bent, like a young girl. Like the girl from long ago, whose hand I had so insistently asked for in marriage. We did not know then the things we know now.

‘We’d better go,’ I told her.

The sea moved restlessly and somewhere in the distance a train rushed past.

‘Come, Kiri,’ I said. ‘Come, come.’

And we went back to the house, our footprints in the sand. We were people who had seen too much and must therefore be killed.

The Blue Scarf by Roma Tearne from the collection The Dark Side Of The World

Stories of Each Other: Do We Care? Refuge Week event on 22 June

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Thank you again for supporting A Country of Refuge and I hope you have received copies of your book/s. I wanted to draw your attention to a fantastic eve taking place at the Free Word Centre during Refugee Week on Weds 22 June at 6pm. 

Details below and link to book tickets is:

On the eve of the European referendum, come and hear from…

A Country of Refuge Launch and last chance to pledge…

Monday, 22 February 2016

Refuge final 720

On Saturday's Today programme, George Osborne used the term ‘Syrian migrants’ to describe those fleeing the current conflict. Just a month before, David Cameron called those having to endure terrible conditions in the camps at Calais, ‘a bunch of migrants’. Many of them, including children, had risked their lives crossing the Mediterrean. Last summer, talking about French border control, our Prime…

100 percent and ready to go

Friday, 18 September 2015

A big thank you to all supporters of A Country of Refuge. We have now reached 100 percent. Given recent events and the urgency of the situation for refugees seeking sanctuary, we have decided to push ahead with the book. My aunt, the writer Josephine Pullein-Thompson, was General Secretary and then President of English PEN and for many years campaigned tirelessly for writers’ free expression and human…

Exile and torture

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

A few years ago, I heard Cheikh Kone’s horrifying account of his time spent in an Australian holding centre for refugees. Kone, a journalist forced to flee the Ivory Coast, remained in detention for three years and recounted the dehumanising effect of being reduced to a number. His description of fellow inmates mutilating themselves, some sewing up their lips in despair, the suicide attempts, children…

The refugees of Calais

Monday, 3 August 2015

Thank you to all supporters of A Country of Refuge. The anthology aims to counter just the kind of negative media that is currently so prevalent about 'migrants' in Calais. Many of these supposed 'economic' or 'illegal' migrants are refugees and asylum seekers fleeing war and persecution or attempting to rejoin their families. 

Take Eritera, for instance.

Eritrea gained independence in 1991…

Brendan O'Neill
Brendan O'Neill asked:

Hi, Caitlin at Unbound set to post via this page. I'd like to submit a poem for consideration which I believe has resonance. I have had poetry published before in newspapers, literary journals etc. Seamus Heaney even wrote to me to say he liked one.

On the Famine Ridges, Garrafrauns, County Galway

(for Austin and Áine Cunningham and Family, Custodians.)

The swirl of a morning mist revealed them
Close in together. By one, by two
‘pended across a flitch of a field
- a hard wrought stone strewn mire

Weak shadows moving up shallow trenches
angry fists beating the anvil earth
Empty bellies giving poor counsel
in their kitchen - the hunger hearth

Stark ration scoured faces gathered
Mouthing a futile hymn
"Bia, Dia, Bia" their prayer
Whole parishes perishing

Last-born planted like seedlings
A crop they were fain to sow
Old ones shunned poor-shares and wandered
bequeathing each curséd row

Left furrows watered with mother's tears
from the bitter harvest's well
Ridges blooming with desperation
by Jude's October bell.

Sun summoned to sleep. They drift back
anchored to earth's embrace
Coffined by dead roots and branches
condemned by time and place

On uncut flags the lark laments
these wraiths where they shelve their bones
A shroud of bog cotton their raiment
their monument - a tumble of stones

*Food, God, Food

Lucy Popescu
Lucy Popescu replied:

Thank you for sharing your poem. Yes it's very resonant. I do have a full quota of writers for the anthology, I'm afraid, but do hope you can place it elsewhere. There is an anthology of poems being prepared.... that may be of interest to you. Thanks again. Bw Lucy

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