Book Review - Map of Hope and Sorrow

In this timely book Helen Benedict, a British-American professor, and Eyad Awwadawnan, Syrian writer and refugee, expose the appalling conditions of the overcrowded Greek camps where desperate people fleeing war, persecution, poverty and violence are confined and denied their legal rights under the watch of the West.

As a consequence of the 2016 deal the EU made with Turkey, Greece has become “a trap” for those detained in camps while they wait to be granted refugee status or returned to Turkey, which many consider unsafe. Since 2020, thousands have been left in limbo in a country that does not want them and cannot accommodate them.

Four years ago, Benedict met Awwadawnan on Samos and together they started interviewing refugees. Five stories are included in this heart-breaking account. Hassan fled Daesh in Syria. On arrival in Greece he is handcuffed, interrogated and charged with being a human trafficker for having helped steer the boat that brought him to safety. He receives a suspended sentence, but is unable to leave Greece for three years. Asmahan, a 40-year-old Syrian, is detained while six-months pregnant. During her time in the notorious Moria camp in Lesbos she witnessed “people cutting themselves…scenes that make you hate life in every sense of the word.”

Evans was disowned by his family and persecuted in Nigeria because he was gay. Calvin fled Cameroon after being tortured and imprisoned for supporting the opposition. Both men describe the racism and distrust they’ve faced as African refugees. Mursal, 23,  travelled with her family from Afghanistan and received a similarly hostile welcome: She summarises their predicament: “Yes, we are homeless but not hopeless! We are nameless but not weak! If we are unclean, it is because we slept in the forest, streets and tents, but we have clean hearts. If our crime is speaking up for our rights and freedom, yes we are criminals.”

Over 100 million people globally are displaced. This book celebrates human resilience and the capacity for hope, serving as a powerful call for tolerance.

Originally published in The Observer