Review Blog

Dec 12 2017

Refugee boy by Benjamin Zephaniah

cover image

Bloomsbury, 2017. ISBN 9781408894996
(Age: 13+) On the disputed border of the African countries Eritrea and Ethiopia, armed militants from both sides terrorise villagers for being from the other nation. Teenager Alem has an Ethiopian father and an Eritrean mother and his family literally has nowhere to go because of the hatred and intolerance soldiers from each nation show for the citizens of the other.
Naively thinking that he is going on holiday, Alem accompanies his father to England where he enjoys the marvels of London for a couple of days before he wakens in their hotel room to find his father gone. In a desperate bid to ensure his son's safety, Alem's father had abandoned him and returned to his border village, in the hope that Alem might be granted refugee status.
Whilst Alem experiences an understandable sense of bewilderment and loneliness, he is remarkably resilient and mature for his years and stoically endures the trials of his predicament, trusting in his father and British civil service.
Placed into a refuge for teenagers, Alem finds himself alone amongst boys who appear to be a mixture of young offenders and orphans, inevitably becoming a target for moronic bullies who derive pleasure from domination through violence.
Alem endures this hardship and struggles to understand mindless behaviour and careless attitudes to education and self-improvement at the school he attends. Coming from an austere background in a dysfunctional country, Alem has high expectations of British society and experiences disappointment when he realises that some citizens have no awareness of their good fortune.
Eventually Alem's personal circumstances improve when he is placed with a loving foster family whose only desire is to ensure his happiness and safety. Sadly, letters from his father confirm a rapidly deteriorating situation at home and he lives in constant fear for his parents.
This revealing story explains the difficulties faced by both refugees and those public servants and legal adjudicators whose task it is to determine who deserves asylum and who must be repatriated. As with other stories dealing with similar situations, I could not help feeling a sense of despair that so much trauma is caused by religious, political and territorial disputes. So many people are currently displaced in the world that it seems unlikely they will be granted asylum anywhere safe. This novel considers the role of advocates, protesters, lawyers and the judiciary in dealing with a situation which is often presented too simplistically by both sides of the debate.
Rob Welsh

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