Refugee Week and World Refugee Day are an opportunity to raise awareness of the plight of refugees, as well as celebrate the huge positive contributions made by refugees to Australian society. With this year’s theme of “With courage let us all combine”, we’ve gathered together a reading list of important refugee stories both non-fiction and fiction, suitable for young and old, to learn of the plight and courage of refugees at home and abroad.
Taken from the second verse of the national anthem, the theme celebrates the courage of refugees and of people who speak out against persecution and injustice. It serves as a call for unity and for positive action, encouraging Australians to improve our nation’s welcome for refugees and to acknowledge the skills and energy refugees bring to their new home.
No better book symbolises this theme than They Cannot Take The Sky. Published earlier this year, this is a collection of revealing and confronting stories from refugees who have experienced, or are still faced with, mandatory detention.
It was with great courage that many of the contributors to They Cannot Take The Sky shared their stories, given the fear of persecution and reprisals for having spoken up about the struggles they face in detention on Manus Island and Nauru.
The narrators in this book reveal not only their extraordinary journeys and their daily struggles but also their meditations on love, death, hope and injustice. Their candid testimonies are at times shocking and hilarious, surprising and devastating, from epic life stories to heartbreaking vignettes. Read an extract from the book here.
Other refugee stories
They Cannot Take The Sky shares over twenty stories in its pages, and we’re hugely proud to have been able to publish each of the following refugee stories too. These books tell the often harrowing and heartbreaking stories of people who came to call Australia home, and the struggles they faced both in reaching our shores and building their lives here.
Walking Free by Munjed al Muderis
One of the contributors to They Cannot Take The Sky, Munjed al Muderis also tells his own story in the memoir Walking Free. Munjed came to Australia as an asylum seeker, fleeing certain death in Iraq for refusing to cut off the ears of deserters from Saddam Hussein’s army. He survived the arduous journey here via people smugglers and a leaky boat that landed him on Christmas Island, and then further torment in Curtin detention centre.
After finally being granted asylum, he worked incredibly hard to re-acquire his medical qualifications, and is now a world leading authority on osseointegration surgery – integrating artificial limbs into the bodies of amputees, many of whom served in Iraq and other war zones.
A hugely inspirational story, both from his time as a refugee and in the incredible work he has done since, Munjed has spoken at TEDx, and on documentaries about his experiences, and his pioneering medical research.
The Happiest Refugee and The Little Refugee by Anh Do
In his memoir The Happiest Refugee, and his children’s picture-book version The Little Refugee, Anh Do tells the uplifting and inspiring story of how he and his family almost lost their lives escaping war-torn Vietnam, how the family struggled with life in Australia, and how Anh came to become one of Australia’s favourite personalities.
Both books are hugely loved, with The Happiest Refugee filled with Anh’s humour amidst the heartache,. The Little Refugee is aimed at children aged 4 upwards, and we’ve got notes available for teachers in using this fantastic picture book for classroom discussion.
Small Bamboo by Tracy Vo
Like Anh Do, Channel 9 journalist Tracy Vo’s family fled to Australia following a dramatic escape from war torn Vietnam, boarding a leaky boat not knowing what their future held or whether they would live.
In Small Bamboo, Tracy reflects on that life changing journey and the amazing life it created for them in Australia. Her story shows the extraordinary bravery of her parents and the many refugees like them who fled tragedies and now call Australia home.
We Are Here by Cat Thao Nguyen
Told through the bright and unflinching eyes of Cat Thao, born in a refugee camp, We Are Here is the poignant and compelling story of her family’s horrific flight from persecution in Vietnam on foot across the killing fields of Cambodia, and their life as new migrants in 1980s Australia.
This is a memoir that begins in 1975 with her family’s gripping exodus out of post-war Vietnam and the crowded refugee camps of Thailand, before exploring the migrant experience of Australia of the 80s and 90s.
International refugee stories
With 65 million refugees worldwide (that’s one in 113 people on the planet a refugee), Australia is home to a tiny minority so gaining the stories of refugees around the world are equally important in understanding the global crisis. Here’s a few must read refugee stories from around the world, focusing on the impact on children:
Hope in a Ballet Shoe by Michaela & Elaine DePrince
This is a heart-breaking and inspiring autobiography from a teenager who grew up in war-torn Sierra Leone, lost her parents to war and famine, then as a refugee was sent to an orphanage where she was mistreated and witnessed the murder of her teachers. She was adopted and moved to the United States, where she faced further challenges, such as the racism she fought while chasing her passion, to become a ballerina. She’s now an international ballet star, dancing for The Dutch National Ballet.
A new edition has recently been published, beautifully illustrated and carefully adapted for a younger audience, this younger-reader edition of Michaela DePrince’s memoir is perfect for children aged 5-8.
On Two Feet and Wings and The Boy with Two Lives by Abbas Kazerooni
Both books, for ages 11 and up, provide a powerful child’s-eye view of political tumult, separation, survival, dreams and triumphs in moving memoirs that chronicle the extraordinary times in an ordinary boy’s life. Teachers’ notes are available on our website.
Refugee stories in fiction
For those looking for a different take on refugee stories through the lens of fiction, our recently published Living on Hope Street by Demet Divaroren is a moving story that delves into a range of important issues faced by ordinary people in contemporary society such as refugees in Australia.
Living on Hope Street is all about diversity, stereotypes, friendships across cultures, about what is happening behind doors that is being “seen” but people are choosing to ignore. A voice has been given to the Australian people from many cultures, both those misunderstood and those accepted.
– Little Big Reads
These three novels also offer something for all ages and reading tastes:
Sami Shah wrote about refugees in his memoir I, Migrant and you can read his take on Australia’s obsession with “boat people” in an extract from his book here.
Sign the UN’s #WithRefugees petition for World Refugee Day, which asks governments to:
- Ensure every refugee child gets an education.
- Ensure every refugee family has somewhere safe to live.
- Ensure every refugee can work or learn new skills to make a positive contribution
to their community.