Did You Know That 1 in 113 People in the World is a Refugee?

Gulwali Passarlay and Vanessa Chapman

Gulwali Passarlay with me (read on to find out more!). Photo credit: Ollie Gapper

I’ll say it again, 1 in 113. Pretty shocking right? The numbers are unprecedented. When they talk of a refugee crisis, they ain’t kidding (I’m using the word ‘refugee’ as a catch-all word which also includes asylum seekers and others forcibly displaced through war or persecution. It doesn’t include economic migrants). Around half of those refugees are children, many of whom are alone, either separated from their parents or orphaned.

I haven’t been blogging for a while, and that’s partly because of refugees, let me explain…

I organised a conference at work in June, and I booked Gulwali Passarlay as our keynote speaker. Gulwali is author of ‘The Lightless Sky: My Journey to Safety as a Child Refugee’.

The Lightless Sky book cover

Gulwali arrived in the UK as an unaccompanied asylum seeking child at the age of 13, after having spent a perilous year, travelling 12,000 miles alone from Afghanistan. I read his book prior to meeting him, and I’m really struggling to put into words what this book did to me. It was so shocking, and moving, and heartbreaking, but also uplifting and hopeful. How he survived the journey, and made it to the UK is incredible. His strength and determination, which shines through in the book is truly humbling.

Since arriving here nine years ago he has gone on to achieve so much, a Degree in Politics from Manchester University (he barely spoke a few words of English when he arrived), he has done a TEDx talk, he carried the Olympic torch in 2012, he is an activist and campaigner for refugees, and of course the writing of his book. He has appeared widely in the press and on television; if you Google his name you’ll find plenty.

In person he is strong and charismatic, as well as warm, friendly, kind and funny. He is undoubtedly brilliant, and yet underneath it all he is you or me.

“It wasn’t my fault I wasn’t born in Europe. My home was a war zone, did that somehow make me less human?” Gulwali Passarlay, from The Lightless Sky.

Also in June we had the EU Referendum. I’m not going to say much about that right now, but suffice to say I was hugely shocked and upset by the result. And I continue to be hugely shocked and upset by the racism that the result appears to have triggered. It’s frightening. I can’t even articulate how abhorrent I find it.

The combination of those two things – Gulwali’s story, and the Referendum made me feel unable to blog for a while. I mostly write about silly trivial things on here, and a lot of the blogs I follow are fairly lighthearted, and suddenly I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to write about significant and important things, and yet I felt dwarfed by the size and importance of the issues and didn’t feel I could really do them justice. I wanted to make a difference but didn’t know how.

I now feel ready to return. I might not be able to change the world, but right now I’ll be happy if I can get a few people to read Gulwali’s book (available on Amazon and in many high street book stores!), and other personal stories like his. Those individual human stories are so important for changing attitudes. Statistics and media headlines are faceless. I fail to see how anyone could read his book, and then still come out with hateful “Send them home” type comments about refugees and asylum seekers. Maybe I’m naive, but I don’t want to lose that hope and optimism that things can change.


51 responses to “Did You Know That 1 in 113 People in the World is a Refugee?

  1. As someone else who writes mostly light-hearted stuff, I have had trouble blogging lately too. What’s happening there reflects what is happening here with Trump and his supporters and it makes me question the humanity of humans. It sounds as if Gulwali Passarlay’s book will help me find it again.

    Thanks. And welcome back!

    Liked by 2 people

    • It’s hard isn’t it. The lighthearted fun stuff is fine too, it’s part of the rich tapestry of life (or something like that!), and can help keep us sane amongst the chaos, but sometimes it just feels wrong to engage in the trivial doesn’t it.

      Thank you!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Bravo to you Vanessa! I spend a lot of time with my mouth hanging open in shock at the reaction of some any choosing hate. If we shine some light and goodness each day perhaps we can make a difference.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Amazing – well done, boss!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Nice to see you back, and perhaps your post will inspire people to at least consider a different point of view.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I have missed you, Vanessa, and it’s nice to see you again. I understand your absence now. What a heavy heart you’ve been carrying. Good on you to write this post. What a fascinating young man. I will definitely check out his book. Thanks for sharing and spreading the word!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I will definitely put this book on my reading list. I, too, have been dismayed by all the hate in the world. When my daughter did a survey for her economics class last year about whether we should let refugees into our country and then if so, into our state, she was shocked by how negative response she received. Fear makes people act crazy and there are a lot of people and causes out there that love to inspire fear right now. I love this post. I would rather love people and think the best of them (Even if I ended getting hurt by one in the end) than live in fear that a refugee might hurt me and treat all of them coldly and become a cold, hateful person myself because of that. Love makes life worth living…and I have never met someone who regretted being kind.


    • I’m sure you will find the book a very worthwhile read as I did. The tabloid press over here fuels a lot of the hate, that’s what I find really shameful, they’re just doing it for profit to sell their papers, but these are people’s lives they’re messing with. People die as a direct result, I don’t think that’s an unfair statement. I wish people would realise that we are all one race, and stop seeing the country divides as being anything other than geography – that’s one of the reasons I was so upset about the EU Referendum result; we should be coming together more, not less.


  7. excellent post, vanessa. thanks for this. the ignorance and fear coming from some people is incredible.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Living in heavy times is made easier with light touches–like rainbows in the storms. It’s okay to show concern and keep a sense of humor, in order to keep sane, one must do so.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Nice to see you again. It sounds like you have been working through a lot. Good for you for tackling tough topics.

    I have been curious about your thoughts on Brexit a “woman on the street” take on the topic. Do you see it as mainly a rejection of immigrants, or something else?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Nice to see you too Peg, I shall pop over soon and see what you’ve been up to.

      Yes, I do see it as mainly a rejection of immigrants and that’s what really upsets me. From the day after the results, immigrants were having to deal with people saying things to them like “Why are you still here? We voted you out, so go”, as if that’s what the vote was actually for! I really don’t understand how these attitudes can prevail in this day and age.


  11. “It wasn’t my fault I wasn’t born in Europe. My home was a war zone, did that somehow make me less human?”—Such a powerful quote. Wonderful article, Vanessa.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Well done you. I will immediately purchase his book to give to our daughter who just returned from being deployed in Afghanistan. Well, I’ll give it to her after I read it! Nice to see you again. I was away from blogging as well for a year. It just wasn’t in me. I am only back in fits and starts. We’ll see where it goes . . .

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Robin! Good to see you. I did notice that you had started blogging again, I think you reappeared around the same time I disappeared, around early June, so just a couple of months away for me! I will pop over at some point and catch up on a couple of your posts.

      Hope you and your daughter enjoy the book. Well “enjoy” seems an inappropriate word when it’s about someone’s horrific experiences, but you know what I mean.


  13. Thank you for sharing Gulwali’s story, Vanessa. The video is very interesting and I look forward to reading the book. I think stories like this must be shared. How else can we understand the lives of others? We live in our comfortable homes, in our safe countries and have no idea of the experiences of others. Only knowledge such as this can help us develop empathy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Norah, yes indeed, I really believe those personal stories are much more important than the big headlines. Throughout the book there are so many occasions where he could have not survived, and it was heartbreaking for me to read it and know that there are so many others who have been on similar paths and not. Or those that go through all that, only to get turned away and sent back home again at the end of it!

      Liked by 1 person

      • It is heartbreaking. It would be very difficult. I guess we only hear the stories of the strong ones, the survivors. There must be so many more stories of even greater heartbreak that go untold. It reminds me how fortunate I am to have been born where I was.


  14. Oh, and those figures – 1 in 113 and unbelievable. And unbelievably wrong and unjust.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Hi, V! I applaud your efforts on behalf of refugees everywhere. Compassion is sorely lacking in much of the public discourse, although I still have to believe that in our private lives, we are not as inhumane as the media makes us seem. I hope I’m not completely wrong.

    Although America is not the only country to be besmirched by current public displays of fear-mongering and racism, we are leading the pack and I am ashamed to be an American. I am more afraid of my ignorant, hateful, violence-loving fellow citizens than I ever could be of immigrant families looking to start a new life in the supposedly safe and welcoming “land of freedom and plenty.”

    I don’t notice a person’s skin, eye, hair color or accent. I notice their choices and try to understand their intentions. What is in their hearts? If it’s kindness or good will, then it doesn’t matter where they come from. They have a place at my table.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Lorna! I totally agree with what you say about how we are in our private lives. I personally know quite a few people who have that “Send them home” attitude towards refugees, but who are actually really kind caring people in their everyday lives – they’re nurturing, they would help a neighbour without hesitation, they rescue animals etc. This is one of the reasons why I think these personal stories like Gulwali’s are so important, and could really change attitudes amongst those people who are otherwise kind and caring. It makes me so angry when I see refugees described as “chancers” and things like that. It shows such a grotesque lack of understanding about their situation.

      I know what you mean about feeling ashamed to be American, I’ve felt the same about being British in the last few months. I felt it actually when I read Gulwali’s book, and how he was treated when he first arrived in England, and I certainly felt it after the EU Referendum result, as if we were turning our backs on the rest of the world.

      One thing that did come through in Gulwali’s book, which I meant to write in my post but forgot, is how important small acts of kindness can be, how much he appreciated small kind gestures that some people did for him along the way, they gave him hope. We should never underestimate the impact we can have on someone by just showing a little bit of kindness.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, V, the small acts of kindness aren’t small at all. They are HUGE. (Oh, dear. I sounded like Donald Trump! 😦 ) Anyway, you know what I mean. And these micro acts of kindness add up to make the world a tolerable (and maybe tolerant) place for all of us. ❤


  16. Vanessa, thank you for posting this beautiful, heartfelt post. You talk of being able to change the world and it is posts like this that begin that change. It reminds us of humanity amidst the noise.

    Sadly, it is fear that drives us to division.I think Geography and media also play a big part in this. Part of the changes in the world have evolved over my lifetime and as the world communication lines become more universal, we find we are hearing voices and conflicts in other parts of the world…at our own doorstep.

    I grew up in a pretty much Anglo-Saxon bread, middle class environment with only one or two students from other countries. By my teens, races began to intermix. They were there all along but they weren’t at my school. I was fortunate to have come from a family without prejudice. By the time I finished high school, Affirmative Action was in full swing…minorities were given a bump to the front of the line over whites…to create equality. It was a bad time to be white.

    Despite the disadvantage I moved forward and became a teacher at a private school. My students were mostly mostly Asian and Indian with a few white and black students. Things changed when I moved from California to Florida. Living on the west coast is much different than the East coast. The attitude towards multi-cultures is much different. California is very affluent in many areas and people see multi-culture as a natural thing because there is so much economic opportunity. In the midwest and southeast (not northeast where there is again, a lot of economic opportunity) multiculture is a threat…those people are taking jobs that belong to us…it’s a threat which causes fear and anger. That’s why you have this group of Angry White Men…an actual title of a book. That’s what makes Trump look appealing. When in truth, before WWII, America was struggling and in the middle of a great economic decline. After the war, people were so grateful to be in an environment where they weren’t killing each other and for a time there was peace, prosperity and growth…and a baby boom. The white people of America had it great. A time that Trump often refers to on…making America great again.

    Yes, the world still had it’s conflicts, especially third world countries, but it was always…over there, not our problem. As we began interacting and trading with other countries and as technology advanced immigration started to include not just European but Asian and Indian as well. The news media expanded astronomically and we began hearing the plight of countries we barely knew existed. We could no longer cry…not our problem because the voices were carried across the ocean to our doorstep. But some of those voices hold high prejudice over belief systems and try to enforce them with violence…something which has occurred again and again throughout history. One such recent example was 911.Now fear and violence reign the world and instinct tells us to tighten ranks and shut out those who try to oppress us. But it is all done out of fear, never differentiating circumstances…everything is bad…all are evil. Mass immigration threatens the livelihood and identity of any populace in any country.

    Posts like yours remind us of the individual circumstances…the individual humanity which must be drawn out from an individual in order for them to truly find peace…for when you close ranks you contract and become less. It is only the open arms which allow peace. The world struggles to find that balance between protecting its own identity such as has been recently demonstrated in Brexit and is a current divisor in the US…and humanity, helping those who don’t want to be part of the violence…those who only want the opportunity to live in a place without conflict.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow Mrs P, I’ve only just come back to my blog today and read your comment. Thank you so much for giving such a thought-proking and extensive reply. It feels wasted to just be here as a comment, you have a whole post there you could put up yourself! I can’t do full justice to your comment, but you’re obviously very knowledgeable about all this, and I will re-read your comment a few times to take it all in! But yes, fear and the media – each feed each other, and no good comes of it!


      • Thank you for the kind words about my reply. I had to reread my reply to figure out why the high praises. Honestly, your post evoked an immediate, heartfelt response…off the cuff, so to speak. That, to me…is a great post! 😉


  17. I think those of us who have never been refugees cannot fully appreciate what they go through. Some years ago our neighbors in London were from Kosovo and the father of the family suffered quite a lot health wise, as they escaped to a camp before arriving in Manchester and then to London.

    We see the news and can have mixed feelings, though never the full impact. The nearest I have come to that is the plight of the Senegalese in Spain and Italy as I travel and get to know a few, listening to their stories. It’s kind of the opposite, they are trapped in Europe and almost slave labor.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, we can never appreciate or understand the whole picture, I just always think that drawing out some of the individual stories can help people understand a bit better. I know, over here at least, a lot of people confuse economic migrants with refugees/assylum seekers, and I’ve heard refugees described as “chancers” when they arrive here, which just makes my blood boil!


  18. Thanks for sharing! I just recently got involved with refugees in our area, watching children while their parents take ESL classes. Over time I’m hoping to share their stories on my blog. I think the more people are reminded that refugees are actual human beings with personalities, fears, dreams, and stories, the harder it will be to justify discrimination.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Thank you, Vanessa, for writing about such an important issue. I can’t tell you how tense everyone in the U.S. is right now about the current election. It feels like so many have forgotten how to feel compassion for anyone who isn’t exactly like themselves. How easy it has become to dismiss others. it is a failure of listening and a failure of the heart. It feels horrible. This book sounds like something everyone should read. Thank you for putting it in the spotlight!

    Liked by 1 person

  20. I’m so glad to see you back here in the blogging world, and I totally understand why you needed to step back awhile. And, I applaud your post here. It highlights all that is good and RIGHT in this world. The human spirit is an incredible thing, and Passarlay’s book is evidence of that. And his book is evidence that there are so many good people in this world (like you) who believe that we’re all equal, no matter where we’re born, or the color of our skin or the language we speak. I believe that with lovely posts like yours here, as well as the ‘trivial’ posts that still emphasize the normal regularity of all the ‘irregular’ but joyful things that life is made up of – both of these kinds of communication can wipe out the black and the dark that some want to spread.

    Liked by 1 person

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