Last year I published A Country of Refuge , an anthology of writings about asylum seekers. Thanks to all of you who contributed to the Unbound campaign.
Many wonderful writers, including Sebastian Barry, William Boyd, Al Kennedy, Hanif Kureishi, Marina Lewycka, Ruth Padel and Roma Tearne contributed original stories, poems, memoir and essays. The aim was to use the work of well known British and Irish writers to directly challenge the negative press and generate more positive perspectives regarding asylum seekers and migration. The end result exceeded all my expectations and we’ve had a great response.
It’s become increasingly clear to me that it is the plight of vulnerable children that really gets under our skin and compassion fosters change. Many people are horrified by our government’s treatment of child refugees and their heartless decision to deny help to thousands of lone asylum seekers under the age of 15.
Building on the success of A Country of Refuge I want to publish an anthology on the same subject - refugees, asylum seekers and migration - but focusing on the experiences of children and young people. Vulnerable young adults also deserve our empathy. The book will be aimed at child and adult readers alike.
Unbound is again keen to help and our dream is that the book will be read widely in schools, perhaps even on the national curriculum, in the hope that the next generation will have a kinder response to refugees and asylum seekers and better understand some of the reasons people are forced to flee their native countries.
A Country to Call Home will include newly commissioned stories, flash fiction, poetry and original artwork and feature some of our finest children’s writers including David Almond, Moniza Alvi, Simon Armitage, Brian Conaghan, Kit De Waal, Robert Dinsdale, Judith Kerr, Patrice Lawrence, the late Christine Pullein-Thompson, Bali Rai, Sue Reid, Chris Riddell, S.F. Said, Jon Walter, Alex Wheatle and Michael Morpurgo.
There are tales of home, and missing it; poems about the dangerous journeys undertaken and life in the refugee camps; stories about prejudice, but also stories of children’s fortitude, their dreams and aspirations.
The fate and vulnerability of refugee children and young adults continue to be vital issues and the book is intended as a positive reminder of our shared humanity.
I believe that we can change negative mindsets and encourage a more supportive atmosphere but I need your help. Please pledge for A Country to Call Home to show your support for young refugees and asylum seekers the world over.
I’ve chosen these two extracts to demonstrate that the plight of child and young adult refugees is nothing new. Moniza Alvi’s ‘The Camp’ refers to the massive refugee crisis after the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947. The extract from Christine Pullein-Thompson’s Across the Frontier is set just before the Romanian Revolution in 1989 and is about a young boy who has to choose between living in without fear in Britain or remaining in his native country to look after his fragile grandmother. Refugees suffer terrible hardship when they are forced to leave their homes and are often desperate to return as soon as the situation in their country has improved.
11 The Camp by Monza Alvi
A vast parody of a city.
Almost featureless. Teeming, but not bustling.
Children climbed trees to see where the camp ended.
Tents – and patchwork shelters of sheet metal, rags and bamboo.
Her temporary home – precarious yet somehow enduring.
Ludhiana, a lifetime away. Lahore, just out of reach.
Ragged ocean. Oh to sail swiftly to the other side!
Where would they end up? And when? And with what?
From At the Time of Partition By Moniza alvi Bloodaxe Books (2013)
This is an extract from a book-length poem based on a family story set at the time of the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947. Thousands of people were killed in civil unrest and millions were displaced. My grandmother made the crossing from Ludhiana in India to Lahore in the newly created Pakistan, with five of her children. Moniza Alvi
Extract from Across the Frontier by Christine Pullein-Thompson
‘I Want The Truth’
Ion had reached the border. He stood behind a long line of lorries. His own country lay beyond. He could see wooded hills, the dim outline of mountains, acres of yellow stubble, one-storey houses build out of mud bricks; the long straight road to home. He felt like a moth beating against a window trying to get into a lighted room. The ploughed land was being raked by a slow moving peasant. The soldiers were in their watch towers. They looked harmless enough, but were certainly ready to kill. He looked at the lorries and knew that they were his only hope. If only he could get inside one and conceal himself. But most of them were State-owned container lorries. There was no way of getting inside them and no room underneath to hide either. There were hardly any cars yet. It was too early for visitors with the dew still wet on the grass. He sat down on the verge and waited. The drivers chatted and smoked, waiting their turn. He could hear laughter coming from the soldiers. Supposing they were the same ones as were there yesterday? Supposing they recognised him?
The lorries moved on, leaving him alone on the verge. The grass was blackened by petrol fumes and diesel oil. Only a hundred meters away a small girl was watching a flock of geese. What would they do if they caught him? The thought made him tremble. He must not think of it. He would not be caught. There was a lorry parked near him now full of sacks. He could climb inside and hide. The driver had disappeared in the direction of the frontier, leaving the engine running. For a moment Ion’s legs refused to move. Then he bounded across the road and clambered into the lorry. The sacks were empty and smelt of maize. He pulled some over his head and lay down, afraid to breathe. Presently the driver came back laughing. They were all like that, Ion decided, always laughing because they felt so important driving their big trucks, passing the slow-moving oxen, nearly running down old ladies, hooting loudly all the time, frightening horses, leaving a trail of petrol fumes behind them. The lorry was moving now. Ion curled up tightly, his fists clenched so that the white of the knuckles showed. He felt the lorry stop again. Obviously they were through the first barrier, but still on the wrong side. The soldiers were quick. They laughed and made cheerful remarks and then the lorry moved on and now the soldiers spoke ion’s language.
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