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Joined: 24 May 2007
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PostPosted: Fri Oct 05, 2007 7:27 pm    Post subject: Refugee boy Reply with quote

Refugee Boy by Benjamin Zephaniah

Alem is beginning the holiday of a lifetime. With his much-respected, much-beloved father he arrives in England ready to see the sights. He's bright, interested, excited, but above all he feels very privileged to be alone with his father on a trip of this magnitude. They make their way from Heathrow to nearby Datchet and a quiet, friendly, family hotel which will be their base while they're away. On their first full day they get the train into London and explore. Alem is blown away by the crowds, by the glamour, by the traffic. But above all he loves that juxtaposition of old and new so peculiar to London. Alem would like to be an architect when he grows up and he spends his day dreaming of what he'd build where and how he'd incorporate old, traditional themes into his modern designs. After sharing a happy meal the two holidaymakers return to the hotel for a much-needed nights sleep. With barely time to wonder why it is his father keeps insisting so strongly that he must speak in English and not his native tongue, Alem sinks into bed a happy child.

But in the morning Alem's father is gone and Alem is alone.

Alem Kelo is an African child, his father Ethiopian, his mother Eritrean. Because of the wars between those two countries and the hatred between their peoples, Alem and his family are not welcome in either country. They have been bullied, attacked, driven from several homes. Both his parents work for peace through a groundroots pacifist organisation but it's taking a long, long time to break down the barriers. They fear for their own safety but more than that, they fear for Alem's safety. And so his father brought him to Britain so that he could leave him there, trusting in Blighty's capacity to care for war refugees, especially children. And largely, yes, Alem does receive care from Britain. The hotel owner contacts the Refugee Council and Social Services who arrange for Alem to be taken into care, first in a children's home and later with a wonderfully kind and supportive foster family. And as you can imagine, Alem needs all the support he can get. He's barely a teenager, English is his second language, he misses his parents dreadfully and has to live in fear of what will happen to them, so far away. And he has to bear the bureaucratic impersonality of the process built around seeking asylum here. It's not an easy status to obtain and eventually, after months and months of wrangling, Alem's application is rejected. Yes, rejected. With no outright war existing between Ethiopia and Eritrea it is considered that Alem is safe to return home, despite the evidence of bullying and attacks, despite having been driven from several homes, despite the fact that a desperate father brought his only son halfway across the world and left him there.

Alem has much to bear but he bears it all with calmness and composure. He's a quiet, studious, obedient child and he does his best to live up to the expectations of the parents from whom he's separated.

A very good read.

Tears that I shed are the trail to bring you home.
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