Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Human Cargo: A Journey Among Refugees by Caroline Moorehead

For years, Caroline Moorehead has crossed the planet visiting people who have fled war, repression, discrimination, natural disaster, and poverty. In her lexicon, these people are all refugees. As she explains and describes in her recent book Human Cargo: A Journey Among Refugees, her view is not widely held. Some nations and the international relief organizations that they control define who is a refugee and worthy of aid more narrowly. For years, the United States and its western allies would only send aid to displaced people who could be considered anti-communist. Sometimes the displaced people have been denied help because it would embarrass our allies whose policies made them homeless. Racial, religious, and political prejudices have often affected international relief efforts. The situation is shameful.

Sometimes people are denied help because they have fled their homes but have not crossed an international border. These people are known as "internally displaced persons" or IDP, and, as you can guess, they frequently get temporary humanitarian assistance but are not offered resettlement assistance. Some spend decades in camps as prisoners, not allowed to have jobs or even grow their own crops.

Most of the chapters focus on either a group in need, such as Liberian or Palestinian refugees, or a country that hosts refugees or offers them new homes. In paired chapters Moorehead describes the generosity of the mostly poor people of Sicily to shipwrecked refugees and then the strenuous efforts of the United States to keep foreign nationals out of the country. She then also describes the racially biased policies in Australia and the bureaucratically handicapped system in Great Britain.

The final chapters focus on refugees returning to their homelands or accepting new permanent homes in lands very different from their origins. Resettlement is never easy.

Human Cargo will attract only very serious readers, but it is an important book and should be available at many libraries.

Moorehead, Caroline. Human Cargo: A Journey Among Refugees. New York: Henry Holt & Company, 2005. ISBN 0805074430

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