Must-Read Stories to Inspire You on World Refugee Day
Today is World Refugee Day, a day when the world stands in solidarity with refugees, those who are forced to flee their homes because of the fear of violence and persecution. Though their stories are often relegated to just headlines, we should never forget what these 65 million people have 65 million unique experiences.
Each individual has a story of strength and perseverance, and our support of their courage shouldn’t be limited to just this one day. One of the most effective ways we can build empathy in the world is through reading—in particular, through reading the stories of those who differ from you. Here are just a few of the many stories from refugee voices to read on this day. As Malala Yousafzai writes in I Am Malala, “Let us pick up our books and our pens, they are the most powerful weapons.”
We Are Displaced by Malala Yousafzai
Malala is a force to be reckoned with. When she was 15, she was shot by the Taliban for her advocacy work for girls’ education. But that didn’t stop her or her activism. Now at age 21, she is the youngest Nobel Prize laureate and a household name. She speaks on a range of issues and uses her platform to highlight other voices as well—We Are Displaced is full of stories from refugees around the world, sharing their experiences of displacement and their unwavering strength.
Mawi Asgedom was always told by his father to “treat all people—even the most unsightly beetles—as though they were angels sent from heaven.” These words are echoed throughout Mawi’s story, as he recounts his experience of leaving his home in East Africa to his years at a Sudanese refugee camp to his eventual settlement in the United States. But through all the prejudice and obstacles that faced him, the importance of kindness and empathy was not forgotten.
Now is the Time for Running by Michael Williams
After soldiers destroy their home village in Zimbabwe, two brothers, Deo and Innocent, are forced to flee in this novel from Michael Williams. They seek refuge in South Africa, where refugees are resented and unwelcomed, and are faced with xenophobia, crime, and poverty. It’s an emotional story about survival, building community through commonalities, like a love of soccer, and the power of brotherly bonds.
Refugee 87 by Ele Fountain
In this novel by Ele Fountain, Shif is a young boy whose childhood comes to an abrupt end when he’s forced to leave his loving home to avoid army conscription. He embarks on a dangerous journey, encountering both unthinkable cruelty and boundless kindness as he travels across continents, unsure if he’ll ever be safe again. Refugee 87 details a reality faced by young refugees everywhere, as Shif bravely makes his way towards a future he can barely imagine.
How Dare the Sun Rise: Memoirs of a War Child by Sandra Uwiringiyimana with Abigail Pesta
If I can describe Sandra Uwiringiyimana in one word, it would be resilient. Growing up in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, this book reflects on her experience as a refugee and her immigration to America to escape violence. She’s forced to confront her trauma while in this new country, describing her struggles and how the practices of art and activism can be used to overcome adversity.
Americanized: Rebel Without a Green Card by Sara Saedi
In this memoir, Sara Saedi reflects on two very different fears: her fear of deportation and her fear of acne. When she was two years old, her family fled from Iran to California to escape war and revolution. As Sara grows up, she’s forced to grapple with her undocumented status, as well as the typical struggles that comes with being a teenager. It’s a fun read that manages to cover everything from Iranian history to applying for a green card to finding a date to prom.
First Generation: 36 Trailblazing Immigrants and Refugees Who Make America Great by Sandra Neil Wallace and Rich Wallace, illustrated by Agata Nowicka
From science to music to activism, the United States has benefitted immensely from the contributions and accomplishments of immigrants and refugees. First Generation highlights some of these individuals, like Albert Einstein, Yo-Yo Ma, and Madeleine Albright, who have changed the country for the better. As someone whose parents are immigrants, this is such an inspirational read and reminds me that Lin-Manuel Miranda was right—immigrants really do get the job done!