As long as there are wars and persecution, there will be refugees…Their story is one of resilience, perseverance and courage. Ours must be of solidarity, compassion and action.
– António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations
World Refugee Day (20 June), a United Nation’s initiative, is a chance to raise awareness of the plight of the 68 million people who are currently refugees or displaced peoples.
The treatment of refugees has been a contentious issue in Australian politics for decades, particularly since the imprisonment of men, women and children on Nauru and Manus Island. In fact, the UN’s World Refugee Day came into existence through the campaigning of the Australian organisers behind Refugee Week, an annual Australian event which celebrates the inclusion of refugees in our society, and aims to challenge negative stereotypes by providing accurate information to the public.
This year, the theme of Refugee Week (16 June–22 June) is ‘Share a story, share a meal’. We firmly believe in the power of storytelling; it can play a significant role in empowering the disempowered, and in bridging the gap between people through increased understanding and empathy.
So to support Refugee Week, we are drawing attention to four Australian books that make connections between readers and refugees through storytelling. Below you’ll find links to resources for two primary titles and two secondary titles. Share your book recommendations via twitter by linking to @ReadinAustralia and using the hashtag #WithRefugees.
The Little Refugee
This picture book tells the true story of Anh Do and his family, who survived a boat journey from Vietnam and ultimately found a home in Australia. The characters’ experiences of danger are balanced by the use of simple language and humour. Reading this with your class provides opportunities to discuss the idea of putting yourself into the shoes of others.
Concepts like displacement, danger and cruelty can be difficult to explore in children’s books, but David Miller has sensitively and successfully told a universal refugee story by focusing on the issue of habitat loss from the perspective of two ducks. The story is brought to life through intricate visuals created by brightly coloured paper sculptures.
The strength of Libby Gleeson’s Mahtab’s Story is that it is told through the perspective of a young girl – we feel her every hope and every crushing fear as she flees her home and makes the perilous journey (through mountains, snow, ocean) to Australia. In addition to the unit of work, Yassmin Abdel-Magied has written a powerful essay on Mahtab’s Story, discussing the novel’s themes and political and global context.
A journalist enters an unusually named restaurant with a simple question and is swept up by the storytellers he finds inside, each one having lost their home and more during World War II. The message of this book is about the importance of storytelling to displaced peoples; it has the power to forge connections across cultures, across time, both a way to remember and to make peace with the past.