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A person holds a banner up during a refugee protest. It depicts two hands, one light and one dark skinned, holding the earth surrounded by flowers

June 20, 2022

Discover refugee stories

‘I will tell these stories… because to do anything else would be something less than human. I speak to these people, and I speak to you because I cannot help it. It gives me strength, almost unbelievable strength, to know that you are there,’ – Valentino Achak Deng, What is the What 

June 20 is World Refugee Day, an opportunity to celebrate the strength and courage of those who have been forced to flee their home country to escape conflict or persecution.  

In 2022 the theme of World Refugee Day is ‘Whoever. Wherever. Whenever. Everyone has the right to seek safety.’ UNHCR estimates that there are nearly 26.4 million refugees worldwide – and each of them has their own story. 

To mark World Refugee Day, we’re sharing items from our collection that give voice to those stories. 

Seeking asylum: our stories 
Asylum Seeker Resource Centre 

In their own voices, contributors share how they came to be in Australia, and explore diverse aspects of their lives: growing up in a refugee camp, studying for a PhD, changing attitudes through soccer, being a Muslim in a small country town, campaigning against racism, surviving detention, holding onto culture, dreaming of being reunited with family. There are stories of love, pain, injustice, achievement and everything in between. 

First, They Erased Our Name: a Rohingya Speaks  
Habiburahman, Sophie Ansel, and Andrea Reece 

Habiburahman was born in 1979 and raised in a small village in western Burma. When he was three years old, the country’s military leader declared that his people, the Rohingya, were not one of the 135 recognised ethnic groups that formed the eight ‘national races’. He was left stateless in his own country. First, They Erased Our Name is an urgent, moving memoir about what it feels like to be repressed in one’s own country and a refugee in others. 

The refugees 
Viet Thanh Nguyen 

The Refugees is a collection of stories written over a period of twenty years, exploring questions of immigration, identity, love, and family. In The Refugees Viet Thanh Nguyen gives voice to lives led between two worlds, the adopted homeland and the country of birth. The stories are a captivating testament to the dreams and hardships of immigration. 

What is the what: the autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng, a novel 
Dave Eggers 

Valentino Achak Deng is just a boy when conflict separates him from his family and forces him to leave his small Sudanese village, joining thousands of other orphans on their long, long walk to Ethiopia, where they find safety – for a time. Told with expansive humanity, deep compassion and unexpected humour, What is the What is an eye-opening account of life amid the madness of war and an unforgettable tale of tragedy and triumph.

A black flag with yellow writing that says "Refugees welcome"

The happiest refugee: my journey from tragedy to comedy 
Anh Do 

Anh Do nearly didn’t make it to Australia. His entire family came close to losing their lives on the sea as they escaped from war-torn Vietnam in an overcrowded boat. But nothing could quench their desire to make a better life in the country they had dreamed about. The Happiest Refugee tells the incredible, uplifting and inspiring life story of one of Australia’s best-loved comedians.  

The displaced: refugee writers on refugee lives 

In The Displaced, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Viet Thanh Nguyen, himself a refugee, brings together a host of prominent refugee writers to explore and illuminate the refugee experience. Featuring original essays by a collection of writers from around the world, The Displaced is an indictment of closing our doors, and a powerful look at what it means to be forced to leave home and find a place of refuge. 

Songs of a war boy 
Deng Thiak Adut with Ben Mckelvey 

Deng Adut’s family were farmers in South Sudan when a brutal civil war altered his life forever. At six years old, Deng was conscripted into the Sudan People’s Liberation Army. Years later, Deng Adut came to Australia as a refugee. This is an inspiring story of a man who has overcome deadly adversity to become a lawyer and committed worker for the disenfranchised, helping refugees in Western Sydney. It is an important reminder of the power of compassion and the benefit to us all when we open our doors and our hearts to fleeing war, persecution and trauma. 

No friend but the mountains 
Behrouz Boochani 

From 2013 to 2019, Kurdish journalist Behrouz Boochani was illegally detained on Manus Island and elsewhere in Papua New Guinea. This book is the result. Laboriously tapped out on a mobile phone and translated from the Farsi. It is a voice of witness, an act of survival. A lyric first-hand account. A cry of resistance. A vivid portrait through five years of incarceration and exile. 

They cannot take the sky: stories from detention 

For more than two decades, Australia has locked up people who arrive here fleeing persecution – sometimes briefly, sometimes for years. In They Cannot Take the Sky those people tell their stories, in their own words. Speaking from inside immigration detention on Manus Island and Nauru, or from within the Australian community after their release, the narrators reveal not only their extraordinary journeys and their daily struggles but also their meditations on love, death, hope and injustice.  

You Can’t Ask That – Refugees  

Not many groups of people in Australia are more feared or misunderstood than refugees. In this episode we hear from refugees about their experience of Australia. The people, the culture and their new home. 

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