For the past six months we’ve heard almost daily reports of the Syrian refugee crisis: gripping accounts of human tragedy, shocking reports of human cruelty, and hopeful tales of human compassion.
The Illegal reflects this tragedy, cruelty, and hope as well as the complexities of what it means to be a refugee or undocumented migrant in the world today.
The reader immediately tumbles into the crisis as it is being lived by Keita Ali, one of the millions fleeing persecution by their country. Swept up in the fear and instability of his life on the run, we learn gradually of the grave human rights violations that spurred his flight. At the same time, we are touched by the dignity and ingenuity with which this man approaches his ordeal.
As the world is coming to grips with how to respond to the largest human displacement crisis since the end of the second world war, The Illegal reminds us that every one of the almost 60 million people forcibly displaced in the world today, is an individual not unlike ourselves with family and friends, hopes and dreams. Keita’s flight and exile in Freedom State is a story known by refugees the world over, and could well be the story of a refugee’s experience in Canada.
“Since the government got elected, they’ve been deporting people as fast as they can,” a man in a bar tells Keita. “I don’t know what you’re running from, brother, but be careful of what you are running to.”
Lawrence Hill directly confronts xenophobia with the edgy title of his book, remarking, “To categorize a person as illegal is thoroughly offensive to the concept of humanity. I use it to represent the worst of human thinking about the plight of migrants and refugees.”