Book reaction to Human Cargo by Caroline Moorehead Caroline Moorehead’s book entitled Human Cargo uses the metaphor of a journey to describe how refugees across the modern world make the painful transition from one status to another, often undergoing truly horrific and painful treatment at various stages on that path…
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This is a hard-hitting book which tries to illuminate these problems from the point of view of refugees, rather than from the comfortable position of the observer who is fortunate enough to have a homeland and to be settled and secure in that place. In reading this book, I was prepared to hear moving stories about individuals who had been caught up in wars, famines and disasters of all kinds. This expectation was more than met in descriptions ranging from cases of rape in Sierra Leone and Liberia, to shipwrecks on the way to Sicily. The grim and horrifying violence and lawlessness in some developing countries is clearly the cause of most large scale refugee movements and the book confirmed my view that these problems are increasing in the world, and that arrangements to care for refugees are not adequate for the volume of need that is there. What I did not expect to read about was the suffering that refugees had to endure on their journey away from horrific situations, and in camps and detention centers once they had arrived in places where they had hoped to find relief and a place to stay. This dimension of the book was truly shocking. Apart from highlighting the suffering of refugees, Moorhead has a secondary aim in her book, and that is to bring public attention to the way that affluent governments make the situation of refugees even worse than it already is. The book shows how throughout the twentieth century, systems and processes were invented to keep refugees out of certain countries, such as Australia, for example, and to make sure that they were locked up and kept under very close observation, as in the United Kingdom. The international laws that are designed to protect refugees seem to be very ineffective in doing exactly this. In addition to these political factors, which are no doubt driven by economic forces, since few countries want to take on the financial burden of finding homes, jobs and healthcare provision for the many hundreds of thousands of refugees, there are also cultural factors. Thinking back over recent decades, there has been a tendency for Western Europe and North America to react to particular waves of refugees, such as the so-called Vietnamese Boat people, for example, with one-off and temporary measures. Newspapers latch on to the drama of these situations, but once the story becomes old news, the funding dries up and the problem remains. Some groups of refugees are demonized by the media, as for example in the case of the Romani people, and also Serbs, Kosovans and other Eastern European groups who were displaced in the fall of communism as small states gained independence and began to implement rules based on ethnic origin. Sadly, these trends seem to be repeated all over the world. My own reflections on this book were first a feeling of shock, since I had not realized that things were so very bad for refugees, and then some thoughts about the current situation in the United States where politicians are arguing about what to do with the thousands of illegal immigrants who arrive from Mexico and beyond. I think the situation is more complex than it appears on the surface. Many of the people at the center of current debates in America are economic migrants, which means they are seeking better opportunities for themselves and their children. Negative attitudes against this kind of migrant spill over into negative attitudes towards refugees, who truly have no choice in the matter and are moving
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