Twenty first-hand accounts of life by people who are or who have been in immigration detention is not for the faint hearted but it should be essential reading. Whether you are for or against the detention of asylum seekers, you could not fail to be moved by the humanity of these stories. For many, it would be the first time actually hearing the voices of those detained.
Amidst the stories of horror brought by detention of people doing nothing more than what is their human right – to seek safety from persecution from a country bound in law to protect them – there are just as many tales that lift the soul. There is humour and tales of companionship as well as stories of kindness from volunteer visitors, teachers, medical staff and even Serco guards.
What They Cannot Take the Sky explains about immigration detention is that the people held there may have escaped physical torture and the risk to life in their homeland, but the mental torture of detention may be worse. The way people were given insufficient information to make decisions, had their stories twisted, were forced to endure friends disappearing in the middle of the night – taken and deported when resistance was likely to be least. How disease spread because of insufficient health care, living too closely together and having to share personal items. How basic human rights such as access to water, sanitation and sanitary items were restricted.
As an Australian – as a member of the human race – I am ashamed.
What strikes most though, in the haunting hours after reading, is not what these people have endured, because perhaps the mind cannot hold on to thoughts like those too long, but rather what those who have settled here have made of themselves: lawyers, parents, business owners, employers, world class surgeons; the list is endless. They spend money, they drive the economy and they contribute to the rich fabric of Australian life. More than that, They Cannot Take the Sky reminds us that they are people, individuals like you and I, born to a less lucky life.
It’s perhaps not a coincidence that very few Australians know the second verse of our national anthem, because that’s the bit that talks about the boundless plains we have to share for those who’ve come across the seas. Let this book remind you.
Reviewed by Monica Leahy
Rating out of 10: 10
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Release Date: March, 2017