Tales by Ali Smith and Chris Cleave are to contribute to a short story collection highlighting the “frighteningly common” experience of Europe’s refugees.
Published by Manchester-based indie Comma Press, the collection, entitled Refugee Tales, will be a modern re-working of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. The book will feature 14 stories from individuals affected by the UK detention system as told through the words of writers including Patience Agbabi, Inua Ellams and Marina Lewycka. It will be edited by David Herd and Anna Pincus.
The tales have been developed in collaboration with refugees, former immigration detainees, and those who work with them. With titles like ‘The Detainee’s Tale’, ‘The Appellant’s Tale’ and ‘The Unaccompanied Minor’s Tale’, each is based on close conversations with the people behind the stories (whose anonymity is preserved for reasons of security), and offers a "compelling, shocking and truthful" account of what it means to seek asylum in the UK.
Among the collection will be a story about a 63-year-old man who is woken one morning by border officers "acting on a tip-off" and, despite having paid taxes for 28 years, is "suddenly cast into the detention system with no obvious means of escape". Another tells the story of an orphan whose entire life has been spent in slavery – first on a Ghanaian farm, then as a victim of trafficking – who writes to the Home Office for help, only to be rewarded with a jail sentence and indefinite detention.
The publisher said: "These are not fictions. Nor are they testimonies from some distant, brutal past, but the frighteningly common experiences of Europe’s new underclass – its refugees. While those with ‘citizenship’ enjoy basic human rights (like the right not to be detained without charge for more than 14 days), people seeking asylum can be suspended for years in Kafka-esque uncertainty. Here, poets and novelists retell the stories of individuals who have direct experience of Britain’s policy of indefinite immigration detention. Presenting their accounts anonymously, as modern day counterparts to the pilgrims’ stories in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, this book offers rare, intimate glimpses into otherwise untold suffering."
Comma Press holds world English language rights to the collection.
Refugee Tales will be published on 23rd June. All profits will go to the Gatwick Detainee Welfare Group and Kent Help for Refugees.