Note: This post contains affiliate links.The New Odyssey by Patrick Kingsley
Published by Liveright on January 10, 2017
Genres: Politics + Social Science
Pages: 368 (Hardcover)
Goodreads | Amazon
Patrick Kingsley was the Guardian’s first-ever migration correspondent, a position that made him uniquely qualified to write a book about the European refugee crisis. During the course of his research, he traveled to seventeen countries and spoke to numerous refugees, smugglers, coast guard officials, politicians, and citizens both hospitable and hostile to their foreign guests. The result is a narrative both erudite and empathetic.
Kingsley offers a panoramic and macroscopic view of the crisis by alternating chapters that are more broad and analytical with short chapters that follow the story of Hashem al-Souki, a Syrian refugee on a two-year quest to find asylum in Sweden.
Hashem’s story is particularly moving and adds a great deal of suspense to the narrative. Hashem left his wife and three children in Egypt to embark on a perilous journey across the Mediterranean in the hopes that he could reach Sweden, which, at the time of his departure, had a quicker family reunification process, and send for his family to join him via a safer method of travel. My heart was pounding in my chest by the time I reached the end of the book, anxiously wondering if Hashem would be granted the permanent asylum he sought after so long.
I hear so much about the Syrian refugee crisis in the news that it’s easy to forget the huge numbers of refugees that also pour into Europe from other Middle Eastern and African countries, such as Afghanistan, Eritrea, and Somalia. Kingsley documents this flood of people as well as the various smuggling routes that have risen and fallen in popularity over the last few years.
Trials by Land and by Sea
Speaking of smugglers, Kingsley dives deep into the shady underworld of people smuggling, exposing the incredible risks desperate people are willing to face to escape their uninhabitable homelands. In addition to the famous migrant boats dangerously packed with enough bodies to make capsize and mass drowning a real likelihood, refugees on the trail from northern Africa to Italy often face kidnapping and financial exploitation at the hands of their smugglers. Women are often raped and in some quarters, torture is not uncommon. Kingsley quotes Jeremy Harding, writing for the London Review of Books:
‘Human traffickers are simply vectors of the contempt which exists at the two poles of the asylum seeker’s journey; they take their cue from the attitudes of warlords and dictators, on the one hand, and, on the other, of the wealthy states whose citizens have learned to think of generosity as a vice.’
This sort of treatment seems to be somewhat less of a risk for refugees traveling from Turkey to Greece, now the preferred route, but they still face myriad dangers, sometimes from the very countries they’re fleeing to.
One day, on the Greek Island of Kos, all the refugees are asked to report to a disused old stadium to receive their papers. When they arrive, they are locked inside. The most nimble can find a way to climb out–or, in Kingsley’s case, in. Without adequate water, by midday refugees “are fainting at a rate of one every fifteen minutes.” When the refugees understandably push back, they are “beaten back with shields and truncheons, and sprayed with fire extinguishers.” Eventually, they receive their papers and are permitted to leave, but not before being put through an exhausting and humiliating ordeal. Anecdotes like this are heartbreaking, infuriating, and frequent throughout the book.You Need to Read This Book About the Refugee CrisisClick To Tweet
The Cause of & Solution to the Crisis
Some countries, like Sweden and Germany, are doing their best to welcome refugees, despite being overwhelmed by the sheer number flooding in. Other countries, like Hungary and the U.K. (and, quite frankly most of the EU, not to mention the U.S.), refuse to pull their weight. This, of course, has turned what could have been a “refugee situation” into a full-blown crisis. As Kingsley writes, “In their refusal to admit the inevitability of the situation [the Europeans] are making things far more chaotic than they need to be.”
Kingsley also points out that the EU’s isolationist response to the crisis will not prevent terrorist attacks and may actually make them more likely. It is impossible to secure all the borders in the European Union, he argues, so people are going to find a way to cross borders anyway. A better system of admitting refugees would allow time for screening and could potentially put smugglers out of business–but only if the EU works together to share the burden. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like that will happen anytime soon.
If you read only one book on the refugee crisis, this is the one to choose. It combines the best of emotive storytelling and cool-headed analysis. I cannot recommend it highly enough.