Bor­dered Lives: How Europe Fails Refugees and Mi­grants

Hsiao-hung Pai

Foreword Reviews - - Reviews - SU­SAN WAG­GONER

New In­ter­na­tion­al­ist (APRIL) Soft­cover $16.95 (240pp) 978-1-78026-438-7

In Bor­dered Lives, ac­tivist and jour­nal­ist Hsiao­hung Pai sur­veys Western Europe’s refugee camps—pri­mar­ily in Italy, Bri­tain, France, and Ger­many—and those seek­ing asy­lum there. Many in­ter­views with refugees are in­cluded, and the book gives an ad­mirably com­plete pic­ture of what it’s like to be a dis­placed per­son in the new di­as­pora. The over­view is some­times com­pelling and some­times overly stri­dent, but al­ways in­ter­est­ing.

The book is ef­fec­tive when it fac­tu­ally de­picts the con­di­tions of var­i­ous Euro­pean refugee camps, and is even more ef­fec­tive when refugees de­scribe their day-to-day lives in their own words.

In­di­vid­ual sto­ries cast light on is­sues out­siders might not think of—for ex­am­ple, the fact that many refugees ar­rive with some de­gree of PTSD, or the mis­match be­tween refugees’ ex­pec­ta­tions and the ac­tu­al­i­ties of camp life. Refugee sto­ries also con­tain de­tails that sug­gest pos­si­ble so­lu­tions: since time spent wait­ing in camps is lengthy, could re­sources be de­ployed to help refugees learn the lan­guages and cul­tures of their host coun­tries?

Per­sonal views color the text, though. Western­ers are con­sis­tently painted as racist, greedy, and im­moral; tourists are es­pe­cially scorned as sym­bols of the “cal­lous wealth of the ruthless rich.”

Though the book prom­ises a new ap­proach to solv­ing the prob­lem, its an­swers seem to be old ones: the West must do more, give more, re­lax its bor­ders, and drop racist con­cerns over crime, crowd­ing, ter­ror­ism, and na­tional iden­tity.

Hsiao-hung Pai’s oft-re­peated point is that there isn’t a “refugee cri­sis,” but rather a cri­sis when it comes to Europe’s fail­ure to ad­e­quately re­spond to refugees. No mat­ter whose cri­sis it is, a more bal­anced ap­proach, with con­sid­er­a­tion for host coun­tries’ con­cerns as as well as refugees’ needs, will be needed in or­der to find a so­lu­tion.

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