We Are Not Refugees

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 01 Mar 2019

Member Reviews

Mass migration is in the news almost daily, but what’s lost in stark headlines and impassioned tweets is the human element. But people don’t leave their homes or their countries, often for good, without a story—often a devastating one. Spanish journalist Agus Morales’ We Are Not Refugees, which is brimming full of people’s stories, heart and humanity, is a corrective to rapid-fire soundbite consumption about mere names such as Syria, immigrants, Mexico, and the wall.

We Are Not Refugees: True Stories of the Displaced (written in Spanish and translated into English by Charlotte Whittle) is a work many years in the making. As a journalist, Morales has covered migration crises in conflict-torn countries from Afghanistan to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In South Sudan, he visits large camps of internally displaced people, or IDPs, who are technically not refugees since they are still in their home country but are still susceptible to violence, disease, and hunger. He worked aboard a Doctors Without Borders ship performing rescues off the coast of Libya; the organization invested in boats to pluck migrants out of the Mediterranean Sea, which has one of the most deadly migration routes in the world. And Morales tracked people fleeing Central America’s deadly Northern Triangle aboard the limb-stealing freight train migrants hitch rides on known as the Beast.

Through his reporting from war zones, refugee camps, and stops along mass-migration routes, Morales witnesses living conditions that most people in the so-called developed world would find shocking. His interviews with people living in these situations are often heartbreaking in how frank they are—and enlightening to those of us who grew up with a modicum of security. He drives past dead bodies in South Sudan; the worn phrase “war torn” is too tired a cliche to describe the fresh hell he sees there. Walking through a United Nations Protections of Civilians camp, he skirts a river of open sewage (the photographer he’s there with, who steps in it, isn’t so lucky). The PoC camps have saved lives by providing safe, U.N. peacekeeper-protected sites for civilians when violence flares. However, “these camps were originally devised for an emergency, not as a long-term solution,” he writes. But that’s what they’ve become—permanent camps. That, and a bureaucratic mess.

We Are Not Refugees is a necessary read for understanding human migration, but it’s not an easy one. As he notes, “Violence is the driving force behind exoduses.” Morales visits a camp full of women in the Congo who were displaced from their homes via sexual violence, a common weapon used on women in conflicts worldwide. A woman shares a soul-crushing story about being raped and how she’s lucky her husband stayed with her, because most men leave after their wives are raped. This woman is an IDP, not a refugee, and she can’t go back home. She knows she’ll just be raped again if she does.

But one of the defining themes of We Are Not Refugees is that the horrors that Americans might imagine when they think of a refugee camp are just a fraction of the global migration story. Morales interviews a moneyed businessman who owned a large factory in Syria that was smashed by the war. When Morales meets him in transit in Greece, at the port of Lesbos alongside thousands of others fleeing the war, the man cannily says, “My factory was the size of this whole port.” He’s taking his family to Oslo, but he wants to return to Syria to reopen his business.

In Central America, Morales continues his quest to unpack the definitions that governments and the media use to broadly categorize groups that aren’t so conveniently monolithic. He meets men who he’s sure are smugglers, just as he does on the Doctors Without Borders boat picking up migrants who have passed through Libya and are heading for Italy. He also meets mothers traveling with small children and boys who were maimed by the Beast, which lurches and speeds along the tracks with riders clinging to the roof of the train’s cars. The distinction of “economic migrant,” a phrase we often hear in U.S. immigration discussions, gets awfully fuzzy when Morales meets people who have fled Honduras because the local gangs were extorting more than they could pay from their meager earnings and then threatened to kill them and their families.

You won’t find a deep legal dive in this book. As a Spanish journalist telling people’s stories, Morales doesn’t explain that in the U.S., gang members threatening your life isn’t enough to qualify for refugee or asylee status. (As an American journalist who has covered immigration in the U.S., I can explain. The U.S. grants asylum requests on the basis of five qualifiers: You must fear persecution in your home country based on race, religion, nationality, social group, or political opinion. Does a grandmother in Guatemala running a tiny fruit stand who is threatened at gunpoint by gangs qualify? Not until immigration law starts including “small business owner” as a persecuted social group in the world’s most corrupt and gang-infested countries.)

However, Morales does cover how politically motivated decisions—such as closing the borders in Eastern Europe, which pushed migrants off the land route and onto a far more dangerous one across the Mediterranean—affect migrants, as well as the labels we use for them, which often translate into policy. As Morales tells people’s stories, he makes one thing clear: He has too often witnessed the dehumanization of the people we call refugees. “Refugees are people … no matter how much we keep talking about refugees … it will, unfortunately, be necessary to keep saying that word: people. It isn’t naive to call them people: this conscious decision contains a desire to reinforce their identity as humans rather than refugees, which is what, for many, defines them, and which is meaningless, since it isn’t how they see themselves,” he writes.

And that last bit—that they don’t see themselves as refugees—is the crux of Morales’ reporting. The talking heads on every side of the debate can say what they want. Morales lets these people tell their own stories. The question now isn’t what to call them, but whether we’ll listen.
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Do yourself a favor and pick up this amazing book. Now more than ever we need to open out eyes to the plight of others who are displaced for their homes. It's very well written and filled with stories that need to be read. Happy reading!
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A compelling account of the lives of displaced people, those who have been forced to flee their homes due to war and oppression , compiled by a journalist who has travelled to the sites of some of the worlds largest conflict zones such as Syria, Afghanistan and the Congo, as well as the largest refugee camps in Jordan, and the exiled Tibetan parliament, and spoken to the men and women whose way of life has been turned upside down. Using their individual stories and experiences he illustrates the problem on a global scale. By showing us that these people are just that, people, not just numbers and statistics, he seeks to put a human face on the issue, an issue which has become something of a political hot potato in numerous countries around the globe. The title reflects the attitude of these displaced people, they often do not see themselves, or refer to themselves as refugees. It also highlights the fact that many people are not considered refugees, but rather Internally DIsplaced Persons, if they have not left their country of origin but merely been forced to migrate within its borders .
A powerful, impactful and important book. 
I read and reviewed an ARC courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher, all opinions are my own.
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This book was definitely out of my normal genre and confort zone. I was offered a chance to pre-read from Netgalley right at the time of a caravan of people approaching the USA border with Mexico. The media seemed to be covering every step they took. We were inundated with "facts" about these people. The media seemed to be focused on manipulating our emotions regarding these people. Somehow I thought this book might give me some insights into what was happening there, especially since the author had a Spanish name.

I was partially correct. While most of the book focused on non-refugees and Europe coming from Africa, Afghanistan, and Syria, there was a small portion of the book that talked about Latin America. I certainly gained insights into the global problem of displaced people and their problems. When a young man commented that people from war zones have no place to go home to and pointed out a picture of bombed out buildings in Syria. his mother, a German who survived WWII, told him that that is exactly what German women did after the war - working to rebuild a bombed out nation. I now understand that the problem is not the buildings being bombed out, but the never ending strife there. 

The main reason I gave this book only two stars is the obvious political bias of the author. It began in the first chapter only pages into the narrative. 

"This is an image that President Donald Trump would like to suppress. With Trump's rise to power in the United States, the construction of the refugee as an enemy - a criminal, a terrorist, a threat to U.S. Safety - has reached its peak. The fact that most people seeking asylum in the United States and Europe are like Khalid - ordinary people trying to escape violence - is a reality that Trump and his supporters deny."

The author appears to believe in totally open borders, one world government, abolishment of nations and states. in the way he writes and phrases certain sections. I do not agree with these politics, but I especially an upset he purports that everyone who believes that immigration should be done legally and people should be vetted properly before given entrance as immigrants is an unfeeling, uncompassionate person who hates the refugee. To paint with a broad brush everyone who wants their country and people to be safe as morally corrupt is to not acknowledge the crimes that have been committed both in this country and others by illegal immigrants in this country or those primarily in Europe who do not have the same cultural and moral underpinnings that those in the country they are living have. Here in the United States where we have had allowed fairly easy entry (many have come on visas and never left - they are also non-refugees) we must be aware of those who would like to destroy our country as they attempted on September 11, 2001. We know those people are out there - we have managed to stop some of the attacks planned on our people. We have also failed at times (Boston Marathon bombers). But the point is that we should be allowed to vet people coming into our country so that we can be certain they are not those who would wish us harm.

Because of some the author's comments, the reader might begin to think that all the refugee (or non-refugee) problems stem from President Trump. Many of these problems predated by decades (at the authors own admission) long before he was even contemplating a run for the office. He has nothing to do with the problems Syrian and Sub-saharan people face in Europe and it is unfair to suggest, even hint, that that might be the case.

The situations these people are fleeing from are indeed horrible. If I were in their situations, would I try to escape? Of course. Would I want someone to take me in and offer refuge? Of course! But I like to believe that I would also realize that those people would be taking me, someone unknown to them, and risking not only their own lives but also the lives of their loved ones if I turned out not to be who I said I was. 

It is for the blatant political bias that I gave the book only two stars. The information is valuable. But the reader must be cautioned to beware of the bias of the author and not swayed into believing that self-preservation of a nation is wrong.
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Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for the review copy of this book! It’s on sale March 5th.

We Are Not Refugees was an important and very interesting book to read. Agus Morales is a journalist who has spent years traveling the globe, interviewing people who’ve had to flee their homes.

What has come out of those travels are stories and stories and stories. Stories of people who do not think of themselves as “refugees,” because the world has cast “refugees” as poor, destitute, helpless beings. And many these people came from a home where they once lived comfortably, once had a livelihood, once (perhaps still) had a family.

These people are people, and all they want is a safe place where they can go back to being productive members of society.

I think the point that really stood out the most for me was about their smartphones; many people look at these people who come with Nikes, and iPhones, and other consumer goods from our world, and that doesn’t jive right. So they say, “If they’re so poor, why do they have iPhones?”

And to that Morales says: As if a map isn’t the one thing you need when you’re lost. And he says: If I had to flee my home, my belongings, and my family because of danger, the last thing I’d leave behind would be my cellphone.

And despite the valiant effort, I still found it so, so hard to tune into these stories — to keep myself from viewing them at a distance. It’s hard to look at that kind of pain and suffering and feel it consistently. So I think the only thing I can do here is to keep reading stories like these — more and more and more. Maybe then it will stick.
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An amazing story from a  very brave journalist, who travelled from one refugee camp to another.  The descriptions of the camps  and stories that he relates brings to life atrocities that one can barely imagine.  The destruction of war, luting, greed, hunger and torture.   So many refugees or displaced persons as he often called them, had seen their families, homes businesses and towns destroyed.   The living conditions in the camps are appalling, cramped and lacking food, water and other basic necessities.  Most people  are forced to leave their homes and countries in order to survive.
They dream of a better life, but will it ever happen?  Many can’t wait to get back to their homeland, despite the fact that everything they had has been destroyed.  A very grave story, but one I recommend you read.  Well written.
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4 stars
We Are Not Refugees
True Stories of the Displaced
by Agus Morales

This book delivers exactly what it promised, a first-hand look at modern-day refugees and their stories and lives. It is at times heartwarming and at times so very sad. This book is difficult to read in many places but sheds an important light on the struggles of those wishing for a better life.
 I highly recommend We Are Not Refuges.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
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A timely and heartbreaking book that covers the experiences of refugees and displaced persons from all over the world. Morales is an experienced journalist who has written about the trials and tribulations of DP’s or victims of violence from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Turkey, Jordan, Greece, Libya, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Mexico and Central America and highlights the commonalities of the narratives from different countries and ethnicities.

WE ARE NOT REFUGEES is a must read for anyone who either supports or opposes the current immigration laws. I have read many books about the Jewish Holocaust of World War II and could not stop thinking about what Elie Wiesel said, “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

Many thanks to NetGalley and Imagine for the ARC.
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Refugees, migrants, internally displaced people = all human beings. I’ve said it before and I will say it again: nobody flees their homeland with only what they can carry on their back unless they have to. It’s natural to seek out a safer, better place for our families. Those of us who have never been in a situation where we saw no other choice but to run shouldn’t be allowed to decide who is more “worthy” of safety, who “deserves” to be called refugee rather than migrant, whose story is more “important”. But we still do.

We Are Not Refugees is a necessary and very timely read: in these days where a president blanket bans all people from several countries from entering the US, and goes to great lengths to build a wall between the US and Mexico, where European countries are talking of migrant “crises” and closing borders rather than actually dealing with people as humans rather than numbers, we NEED to read these stories.

Agus Morales is a human rights journalist who has spent many years traveling to countries in conflict, talking to people who have been displaced because of war, conflict, genocide, hunger, and poverty. He wrote this book not just to highlight that there is not one “refugee” profile, but mainly to highlight the fact that these people are all human. The book is divided into 5 parts, covering areas such as the why’s, and the how’s and the where’s, and takes us to many different places, such as Sudan, the DRC, Syria, Central African Republic, Central America, Tibet, as well as the Mediterranean Sea. 

What happens when all you want is to go home, back to your life of before, but there is no possibility of “before” ever coming back, and/or of your home existing anymore? 

There are many important stories in this book, some that will remain with me forever I think, and there are also some extremely important subjects that must be raised. Why are some people called refugees while others are called migrants? Why are different of groups of refugees highlighted when others languish in camps in the dark? Why do we still fear the “other” when the “other” is another human being just like us?

Agus Morales doesn’t hesitate to lay all of the stereotypes on the table in order to debunk them, and doesn’t whitewash the truth either. He tells the stories exactly how he sees them, and expertly mixes personal anecdotes, stories from people he encounters, and hard facts and truths together to create a compelling and heartbreaking read. I really appreciated the fact that he brought together people fleeing war, people displaced in their own countries with no possibility of returning to their homes, and those who have been exiled for one, two, even three generations to create an overview of what it means to be displaced, of what it means to be a refugee but not a refugee all over the world.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the advance copy of this book!
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This could not be a more timely and apt book as the word “refugee “ has become intertwined with migrant and various other permutations of political prisoners and victims of violence.Morales is an outstanding journalist who uses the stories of internally displaced people or victims from the central Republic of Africa ,Syria, Central America, Afghanistan and Tibet to help tell the narratives that litter the landscape of these people who are affected by unspeakable tragedies. Because there were so many stories , this non fiction expose runs the risk of watering down its  power than if just a few countries were focused on more in depth. However it is the commonality that is displayed in all of these narrations  that allows the true capacity for evil to rise to the surface.
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I believe that this is such an important book to read, especially in today's crisis of humanity. Agus Morales talks with the people who lives have been interrupted by war, drug violence, and collapsed economies. The major consensus among the displaced population is they just want to go  back to their homes but they cannot.  People risk their lives trying to better. Those who are traveling from Central America through Mexico to get to the United States risk run-ins with criminals, rapists, traffickers and other threats. People fleeing through the Mediterranean risk drowning or being attacked on the open sea. Syrians head for Turkey to avoid being bombed or shot. However, bullets in these places are not the only things causing death. Hospitals are being targeted by bombs and ransacked. Doctors are murdered. People cannot get medical care they need. Basic human rights are being neglected or stripped away. Babies are being born on boats or as I come to call it, the land of the in-between. 

I will warn you this book was hard to read. Reading the experiences from the mouths of the displaced was heartbreaking. We need to ask ourselves... what would we do if we were in there position? How far would you go for your friends, family, and children in trouble? We need to look at the origins on why people are on the move and figure out how it can be rectified. 

I also learned something else reading this book. Just because they are displaced does not mean they were poor. There was an interview with a man who owned a factory in Syria that made him 1500 a day. It was destroyed during the fighting. Him and his family are currently on there way to Oslo but would rather go back to Syria to rebuild their lives. So when you see a refugee with a cell phone don't assume they don't still need help. That is a ridiculous assumption and one I will strive to keep in mind for the future. 

Thank you Netgalley for providing me with early access to this book in return for an honest review.
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Read More Book Reviews on my Blog It's Good To Read - Link: http://ebookwormssite.wordpress.com

Summary:
Approximately 65 million people are considered displaced, as of today. This number is roughly comparable to the total population of the United Kingdom, or all of California and Texas combined.

This book attempts the impossible, to put a face to the refugee, to put a name on the internally-displaced person, and a story behind the suffering. It aims to rise above both the alarmist rhetoric as well as challenging the belief that all refugees are essentially the same, to give brief but comprehensive and indicative stories of the people themselves, the displaced, by the people themselves.

Main Characters:
Agus Morales is the main character, as through his eyes we see the stories unfolding, from the current Syrian conflict, to the almost-forgotten Afghan crisis, to the ignored parlous state of affairs in central Africa, and the vulnerability and helplessness of people making the hazardous trip through central South America to the Mexican border. Hazardous is actually too soft and small a word for the experience of all these people, when you read of the stories of kidnappings, rapes, tortures, beatings, exploitation, and the myriad other ways people can inflict pain and misery on each other.

 Plot:
The book covers people and events in four continents, (these being Europe, Asia, South America and Africa). With 65 million people directly affected, the list of countries involved is almost too numerous to count – we are currently familiar with Syria, but the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mexico amongst others all have stories encompassing equal amounts of horror and tragedy.

There are five sections to the book, covering off: why people leave their home, who are the people making these dangerous journeys, how do they survive when they reach a camp, how do they get there, and finally when do they arrive? He bookends this very nicely by inviting the reader to imagine how she/he would manage, if they had to leave everything they knew, and go to a country that didn’t speak their language, and treated them as a huge burden? He challenges us when asking what would drive us to kill our neighbour, or them us, and what would our limits be?

This book attempts to highlight what has happened, and is continuing to happen, to displaced persons. Refugees, by the way, is a word that does not include everybody – people who have left their own town due to conflict but remain within the borders of their own country are “displaced”, and as such “rank lower” in terms of media coverage.

Throughout the author’s experience, and he has been reporting on this for well over a decade, he finds a large number of the displaced people were relatively well-off “back home”, with many being highly qualified, and/or having run their own successful business. One even had a massive factory. These were the people with the wherewithal to pay to be smuggled out of the country. They were not in any sense living in the lap of luxury, it was just that their path was made slightly easier by the ability to grease some palms along the way. By contrast, for those without the means, the book opens with the harrowing true story of a young boy who was alone, friendless, tortured and raped, and finally who died on board a rescue ship, in sight of freedom. The point was made that, had he died in Libya, no-one would ever have known he even existed.

Though the stories are necessarily short, and a lot of people did not want to either be interviewed or give their real names for fear of reprisals, the author gets to the point very quickly. There is no overt moralising, for no-one can dispute the suffering that is involved. No privileged person, of whom I am one, can possibly realise the depths these people have plumbed, in order to gain safety for themselves and their families. A particularly brave doctor in Aleppo, Muhammed Abyad, stood out for me, as he risked death every day for standing up for his patients, and for treating every one of them equally, in spite of frequent warnings and threats to his life.

What I Liked:
- I liked how the author tried to give us the bigger picture, by describing the camps, and giving a deeper context to the huge movements of people.
- I liked the people telling their own stories, direct and unadulterated, without the prism of a particular media source. They were honest and heart-rending.

What I Didn’t Like:
This was a hard-hitting piece of work, based on fact and the author’s own direct research and real-life experience, and one can only respect the danger to which he exposed himself, to bring us these stories.

Overall:
The author makes a good fist of being objective, but his humanity does come through, and between the lines you feel his outrage at how lives are commoditized. He has done this work for years, and while the faces change, the eyes always tell the same story. Most people don’t consider themselves refugees, and most only want to go home, to pick up the threads of their old lives in peace. He readily admits there are bad people making the journey as well, but the vast majority do not want to be there, and are only doing so out of dire need.

The reader is left to make up his/her own mind, as the author lays out cogent facts and statistics to be digested. This is not a dry narrative, as the humanity in each story pervades the whole book. There will always be those who decry the facts, call refugees “invaders”, and seek to be alarmist and so on.

For me, I was left thinking about what I would do. As a parent, I would not let my young child go into the shallow end of a swimming pool without the inflatable armbands. As a parent, I was reading about Afghan women, who being from a land-locked country had never seen the sea, taking their similarly-aged children out on a rickety boat, taking eight days and nights to cross the notorious Mediterranean Sea. It brings home to me the hard, punishing desperate situation these people are fleeing from, and gives me a deeper understanding and compassion.

An important, informative, harrowing book – definitely recommended.

Acknowledgements:
My thanks to the author and to NetGalley, for giving me a free copy of this book, in return for an honest and objective review.
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We Are Not Refugees by Agus Morales is a powerful book that prompts lots of questions and emotions from the reader. This book provides a window into the lives of those willing to risk everything in order to have a better life. The author shares stories of people fleeing their country for various reasons. This book is relevant and is so appropriate for opening a discussion on immigration and our recent political stance. It makes you see the human side of this issue – they are people first. It made me question what it would be like to be in that situation. Needing to flee our country for whatever reason and trying to find safety and comfort in a strange land. This is not something you can even begin to imagine happening yet so many experience this daily. Very impactful and important read! This book left me thinking long after the reading ended. 

I received an advance copy of this book from Net Galley in an exchange for an honest review.
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We Are Not Refugees by Agus Morales was hard for me to read because it depicts the extreme pain of people seeking safety from war, gang violence, extreme poverty, etc. Although safety is their main concern, I think they are also seeking a home where they can permanently settle and live a normal life. The author demonstrates that these people are more than refugees. They are mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, sisters, brothers, etc. This is an important book that I think should be read by everyone, especially in light of what’s happening on our southern border right now. I highly recommend this very important book.
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A really gripping and powerful read. Morales weaves the story together perfectly with captivating writing. A great read.
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Heartbreaking. I just spent the winter reading about refugees during and after WW2. So sad that our world still hasn't changed so very much. This is a must read book about today's refugees . It's pretty comprehensive. It covers all the refugees from every continent and why they are displaced.well-written and well researched.
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I still wonder why I picked this book to read from those suggested for me by NetGalley.  A book about refugees?  That sounds fun.  Then I remembered that several of my ancestors would have been refugees if they had wanted to go home rather than immigrate.  Those who fled Islamic radicalism and government exclusion.  These are my roots, and I have a long forgotten connection to these people today.

Morales invited me into the lives of these people, like me, running with their families from their homes.  They have no desire to run.  No desire to leave.  They love their homes, countries, and neighborhoods.  War has forced them to leave.  Their homes were taken from them.  And, they have nowhere to go.  Closed borders, distrust, and dangerous routes have made them residents of inhuman "refugee" camps.

These are not stories that are heard in the news.  These are not stories that are told by politicians in the United States.  These are people that I have been shown to fear.  These are the people that the United States, and by extension, I, are preventing from protecting an providing for here; the land of opportunity; the nation of immigrants.

What is truly interesting about this book is that Morales so pulled me into these lives that I, a right-center individual, would want to bring as many of these fleeing people as possible into my country, into my town, into my house.
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It's written by a journalist who covers refugees and displaced persons around the world. He tells the stories of the people he's met and the situations he's observed.
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The content is overall good for teaching about the plight of refugees but lacks depth on the political side
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This is an important book that deserves to be read widely. Spanning four continents (Asia, Europe, Africa, Central America) and an impressive multitude of countries (Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Turkey, Jordan Greece, Libya, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Mexico), the book tells the story of the displacement of unprecedented numbers of people in conditions that deteriorate yearly for refugees, asylum seekers and migrants. Morales tells this story with humanity and humility. His aim is to allow the voices of the displaced to come through – not to superimpose his own preconceptions or prejudices upon them but try to hear, to bear witness and in turn transmit to others.

The book itself is the product of years of reporting from areas badly hit by wars and/or humanitarian catastrophes. As the title makes clear, it both *is* and is *not* a book about refugees. One of Morales’ key points that is repeated often in the course of the book is that only a small minority of people who find that they have to move (because of lethal and catastrophic wars, e.g. in Syria, or because it is impossible to continue to live safely in their countries (e.g. Honduras) are actually refugees. Many of them do not perceive themselves as refugees, perhaps because in their country of origin they were respectable, well-off people. Others because - after crossing into neighbouring territory (e.g. from the Central African Republic to Chad) and then attempting to go back – they found they had no identifiable status and could neither lead a normal life nor lay claim to aid.

In telling the stories of these (non-) refugees Morales attempts to debunk various false dichotomies, such as for example the one between (deserving) refugees fleeing wars and (undeserving, economic) migrants who are out to make a quick buck. His wonderful essay on those fleeing central America because they constantly run the risk of being robbed, beaten up or killed ("The Spirit of the Migrant Shelters, Ixtepec-Mexico") makes that crystal clear. He also clarifies how difficult it is to tell between the victims, the smugglers and the gang members who take advantage of the plight of desperate people; as a journalist, he says, he has to be suspicious and raise the questions that his audience wants answered, as a human being, however, he feels that his job is not to pass judgement or categorise but to bear witness.

The book is divided in five parts: 1. “Why are they fleeing?”, 2. “Flights: Who are they?”, 3. “The Camps: Where do they live?”, 4. “Routes: How do they travel?” and 5. “Destinations: When do they arrive?” Not all the essays are of uniform quality, however some are real gems that I think everyone should read. The chapter on “The Forgotten Lake Kivu” touched me deeply with its combination of factual analysis and personal self-examination. Consider the following excerpt:

”By focusing on the logic of war, do we run the risk of dehumanising the suffering of rape survivors? Of representing it as just one ore ingredient – normal, natural – of conflict? […] Of speaking only of “victims”, and not of “survivors”? Among the Kivu, yes, I found stories of villages being attacked, militia’s strategies to destroy the enemy […] but mostly I saw something much more obvious, to which little attention is ever paid, but which has a profound impact on the lives of thousands of women: rape is a weapon of forced displacement. Not even a bombing is so effective at ousting entire villages. I’ve spoken to Syrian refugees who wanted to go back to the inferno of Aleppo, I’ve spoken to Central American migrants who did not take a dim view of returning to neighborhoods controlled by gangs, but I haven’t spoken to single Congolese woman who’d been a victim of sexual violence during an armed attack who wanted to go home” (pp. 93-4)

This is the strength of We are not refugees: Morales is not simply doing a job reporting on war and human movement but at each moment he is ready to question his own motives, volunteer his thoughts and analysis, and offer his interviewees not only an ear but the sympathy of a full human being who relates to them both during the interview and after the interview is over.

I recommend this book to anyone who is interested to know more about refugees/displaced people either from a political/sociological point of view of from a human perspective. Those considering to join/volunteer for an NGO should read this book; even if they’re already familiar with certain regions of the world, it’s likely they will find in this book a wealth of information and humanity. Which leaves out those who see refugees as undeserving scroungers that need to be sent back as soon as possible. What to do about them, how to open their eyes and ears to what’s happening in the world today? I frankly don’t know how to answer this question but I hope that somehow Morales’ book will find its way even to those.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a digital advance review copy.
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