Stormy Seas

There’s nothing like reading a book written for kids to make you angry. Wait. What?

Mary Beth Leatherdale’s collection of stories, Stormy Seas, is about boat refugees. Specifically, it’s about children who are forced from their homes and get on overcrowded boats and flee in order to survive. Leatherdale shares specific stories going as far back as the Second World War.

Children growing up in desperate situations is angering enough. War is a problem, huge in it’s scope and complication. It seems, to me, unsolvable and devastating. But this isn’t what is angering. It’s our response (the thing, when compared to emotions, that is something we can control) that is baffling.

Why are developed nations so appallingly abysmal at responding to refugee crises? They’ve been dealing with boat refugees for decades. Surely there a more humane way of treating people who have already suffered enough? A better way than ignoring their plight altogether and sending them back (example: the St. Louis, Cuba. Filled with Jews. 1939. Denied entry, sent back to Europe just in time for the Second World War. Second example: Komagata Maru, 1914. Denied, sent back to India. Go Canada), or treating them like criminals.

Mohamed was 13 when he left his home in Maple, Ivory Coast in 2006. It takes him four years to get to Italy. Along the way, he spends stints in jail in Libya and has to work to pay human traffickers for transport. He says that that the refugees in Malta were treated like prisoners.

“When immigrants arrived in Europe, they are detained in overcrowded migrant camps. Although many are refugees who have the the right to asylum under international law … they live under the same conditions as migrants who enter the country illegally.” – Stormy Seas

I can recognize there are complications, rhetoric, politics, fear, resources, and money, driving how we respond to refugees and migrants. Okay, mostly money and fear. But we’ve had opportunities since 1670 when the Huguenots left France for England to learn how to prepare for boat refugees.

We haven’t learned enough, or fast enough. Our plans, our systems, aren’t working when we treat children like criminals or refuse to help them. Or when stories about refugees today seem nearly identical to ones from 100 years ago. We still seem woefully unprepared for refugees. Why is what to do with them always up for argument and discussion and failure?

The boats are going to keep coming. The world is an unsafe, unstable place.

We can do better? Can’t we?*

*End rant.

PS: Illustrator Eleanor Shakespeare has an amazing gift.

Mary Beth Leatherdale appeared in Events 4 (Stormy Seas) and 27 (Seeking Refuge) at the 2017 Vancouver Writers Festival.

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