Refugee Boy
Benjamin Zephaniah


Alem longs for peace but all his life has brought him nothing but war. However, his father is an Ethiopian and his mother is an Eritrean. As those countries go to war against each other for the border, his family finds they are not welcome anywhere. His father is a traitor in Ethiopia for marrying the enemy and his mother a traitor in Eritrea for the same reason. So Alem’s father takes him and leaves him in England to preserve him from war and Alem begins the struggle to become a legal refugee in that country. Alem’s mother dies a brutal death on the border which brings his father to England and Alem and his father fight together for permission to stay in the country. Alem is finally granted his permission to stay after one final blow to his heart and his family.

Story line

Alem’s family has endured the beginnings of great hardship during their time in Africa. As the countries of his parents’ origins, Ethiopian and Eritrea, begin to fight the Kelo family has no place to call home. They suffer persecution in both countries because of their ties and connections to the other. Both Alem’s parents desperately seek peace not just for their family, but for the whole continent of Africa, however they realize this goal might take time to accomplish, if it is possible. Alem’s father decides to take him on a vacation to England, to get away from the fighting. Little does Alem know, his father’s intention is to leave Alem there, to protect him from the fighting occurring in their homeland. Alem finds himself alone in a hotel, confused and homesick, but the Refugee Council quickly comes to his aide. They help him find a boys hostel (something similar to it) but Alem hates it and barely spends any time there before trying to run away. When that is unsuccessful, they place him in a foster home with Mr. and Mrs. Fitzgerald. He finds a great home, great support and with the Fitzgerald’s Alem begins to make the best of his situation in England. He even begins to develop a couple of friendships and loves going to school. Life is going pretty well for Alem, until he gets a letter from his father telling him that his mother has been killed. Alem is distraught and terribly upset but is comforted somewhat because his father soon joins him in England. Once his father has arrived, Alem is sure that life is going to get better. But, this changes his situation with the courts and with his permission to stay in the country, because now he has a guardian. It is decided that Mr. Kelo and Alem should be sent back to their country because the fighting—the court claims—is limited and not going to disrupt their peace. After this disappointing news, the Fitzgeralds and Alem’s friends rally behind them to create a demonstration, a movement against the poor treatment and neglect of refugees. This gets the city media involved and causes a stir. Within the stir, Alem’s father gets shot and killed. The news of his father’s death is again a terrible blow to his heart and his life. Alem is permitted to stay in the country especially after the death of his father, and allowed to reside with the Fitzgerald’s. Though Alem’s life have been surrounded and engulfed by war in all aspects, hopefully now he can find true peace.

In my life

I think this book has been a good reminder to me of some of the terrors of war and how far reaching the impact can be on victims, families, and even people outside the country. I think it is good to remember the state of refugees and all that they have to go through. It is good to gain the other perspective and to remember what a struggle it can be at times.

 In the Classroom

I think this is a book that could be used as a classroom book especially if you wanted to highlight some of the hardships of refugees or of war outside of the battlefields. I think this book is probably a good option to be used as a book for people to choose to read from a list or as a specific genre of book to get a feel for the different cultural aspects, war aspects, etc. involved in this text. - CM