Caroline Moorehead and Rose George

Debby Moggach began the evening by introducing the two speakers, both of whom have written remarkable accounts of their experiences with refugees. Caroline Moorehead was discussing her latest book Human Cargo, an account of her three years among the world’s refugees that looks at the real plight of those made homeless by war, persecution and economic need, from Mexico to Australia; Sicily to Cairo; Liberia to Finland.  Rose George’s A Life Removed looks at the lives of Liberian refugees and internationally displaced persons (IDPs). George has travelled to Liberia and Ivory Coast and also met refugees in Britain to discover what really happens when you are uprooted by war, greed and guns.

 * Caroline Moorehead began by stating that refugees were an unfashionable subject, but one that fascinated her. She explained how she had been to Cairo and become involved with Liberian refugees, whom she helped to raise money to begin an educaton in Cairo. As a result of this experience she wanted to find out more about where these refugees came from and why they were in this position.

Rose George explained that she had been approached by her editor Mary Mount who wanted her to complete the book in time for Refugee week last year. George said that she felt it was easy to write about refugees because they all had a story that they were very willing to tell. The writer held intimate conversations with women who were extremely giving and honest about their experiences.

The two authors moved on to discuss the importance of identity, stories and paperwork to the refugees and the culture of suspision that existed in refugee camps. Moorehead explained that if refugees were found to be lying their cases would be automatically turned down and that the authorities often tried to trick them into lying for this reason. George said she had heard similar stories and had found the situation very depressing, also stressing what she termed the ‘chaotic dispersal system’ that existed for refugees who were often trapped in boring, tedious and frustrating situations. Moorehead continued by talking about her desire to describe what it was to have less than nothing, recounting in Human Cargo the living conditions of families with virtually no belongings. 

Moving on to answer audience questions, George and Moorehead discussed topics including the creation of lost generations of refugees in foreign countries, the power of rumours and news in refugee communities, and the prejudiced targetting of refugees and asylum seekers by the press. Questions for the authors continued steadily and Debby Moggach rounded the event up by thanking the two speakers for their detailed and moving stories.

English PEN would like to thank Rose and Caroline for talking about such an interesting subject and Adam Street Club for their hospitality.

Report by Alice O’Hanlon. Pictures by Andrea Pisac

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