Book review - REFUGEE TALES Volume II

The United Kingdom is the only country in Europe to indefinitely detain asylum seekers. A person seeking refuge here can be incarcerated for months or even years. Refugee Tales II seeks to make this shocking fact more widely known through sharing the stories of those who have been victims of this inhumane treatment. Inspired by The Canterbury Tales, twelve writers listen to and retell refugees’ stories, preserving their anonymity.

One of the most moving accounts in the collection is “The Abandoned Person’s Tale” as told to Olivia Laing. A student protester from an unnamed country arrives in England in the
1990s. He unwittingly buys a stolen plasma television from an acquaintance, is then arrested for receiving stolen goods and imprisoned. On his release, he is threatened with deportation.
Years go by in which he is living in limbo – he is not allowed to work – and his case goes to trial seventeen times. Two-and-a-half decades are stolen from this man: “That is what detention is: a thief of talent, of energy, of time”.

Some of the stories explore the “hostile environment” created in 2012 by Theresa May to counter “illegal migration”. Often, asylum seekers have no option but to enter the country with a false passport, in a freezer truck or under the belly of a lorry, in order to reach safety. In “The Mother’s Tale” as told to Marina Warner, a priest muses on what a “hostile environment”
really means and concludes: “It means sweeping up all kinds of people, branding them with the same stigma, regardless of their contribution, their humanity”. The mother in the story lives in constant fear of her partner being deported and does not go out alone any more: “I am afraid”, she says, “all the time.”

The Immigration Act of 2016 forces more and more desperate people into destitution. As Rachel Holmes perceptively observes in “The Barristers Tale”, “Waiting indefinitely to be removed imminently. It’s like Beckett and Orwell met for a bender on Bloomsday in the Kafka’s Head”. Read and weep for the plights of these people who have fled one hell to find themselves in another. All profits from the book go to Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group and Kent Refugees Help.

Originally published by the TLS