Children of War: Voices of Iraqi Refugees

ChildrenOfWarWritten by Deborah Ellis
Groundwood Books, 2009.

Ages: 12+

With Children of War, Deborah Ellis continues her admirable efforts to expose the effects of the Iraq war on children, this time focusing on the plight of Iraqi refugees.

Following the same format as she adopted for Off to War: Voices of Soldiers’ Children, where the children’s narratives were given center stage preceded only by a brief introduction that helps shed light on their individual stories, in Children of War Ellis interviews 24 young refugees, ages 8-19. A four-page general introduction contextualizes the conflict and the role of the U.S. in it for children and young adults, who, like the interviewees themselves, are likely to have very strong opinions about the war after reading all the harrowing accounts of violence witnessed and suffered.

In her brief introduction to seventeen-year-old Eva’s account, the author quotes some astonishing statistics: according to a trauma survey of Iraqi refugees in Syria, conducted by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in 2008, “77% of the refugees had been affected by air bombardment, shelling or rocket attacks; 80% had witnessed a shooting”… and the list of horrors goes on. Eva herself reveals: “My whole life has been war. My mother was giving birth to me [during the war with Iran] when a missile hit the hospital.”

We learn that while a few of the young people highlighted have managed to flee to Canada or elsewhere, most have gone to neighboring Jordan, where they have been living in refugee camps, in dire conditions. Michael, age 12, says: “We were supposed to go to Australia, but Australia changed its mind and doesn’t want us. So here we sit, waiting.” His words illustrate the unbearable uncertainty and total dependency refugees face, in addition to other hardships such as loss of identity (both literally and symbolically), prejudice and more.

These young refugees’ lives have clearly been shattered, yet their hopes and dreams of returning home or finding a safe place to start anew, remain alive. While many express feelings of anger and confusion about a situation over which they have no control, their resilience seems to prevail.

A must, if devastating, read, this book really helps raise awareness of the vulnerable and heartbreaking situation of refugees, and is likely to inspire social justice-oriented readers to start advocating on their behalf.

Black and white photos of the interviewees and a partial map of the Middle East are included.

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