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Why I write about refugees and immigration | Beverley Naidoo

At the age of 21, Beverley Naidoo was exiled from her home country of South Africa for campaigning against apartheid. Beverley went on to become an author, using her own experiences to write stories about refugees and racism. 

Can you imagine suddenly having to leave your home... your town... your country?  Imagine you have to leave your family too... and, by the way, you don’t have a passport.

You might shout, “Stop! I’m only a child! This is crazy!”

I agree with you. It’s madness. But it happens... a lot. 

Twenty years ago, after Puffin published No Turning Back (now one of Penguin’s Originals), I decided to set my next novel here in Britain. I knew immediately that my main characters would be young people seeking safety... asylum...refuge. Inside their heads they would carry the world from which they had fled. At the same time, they must face a new, unknown world, on their own.

I should tell you that when I was 21, I had to get away from the country where I was born, South Africa. It was Britain that gave me a home. I was no longer a child and I had made choices that led me into exile. I was lucky, however, because my dad’s father came from Cornwall - and I had the papers to prove it - so I was allowed to enter quite easily. 

I was also lucky because I met people who were kind and who welcomed me. They wanted to know more about South Africa and its terrible system of racist ‘apartheid’. They asked about my brother and friends who were in jail with many other ‘political’ prisoners who wanted equality and justice in our country.  


Soweto, the location of apartheid protests in South Africa. 


But what if I hadn’t been welcomed with kindness? What if racism and hateful words had been thrown at me? What if I had been a child flung into a new world far from home? These were some of the questions in my head as I began to research the novel that became The Other Side of Truth.


But what if I hadn’t been welcomed with kindness? What if racism and hateful words had been thrown at me? What if I had been a child flung into a new world far from home?



Like a detective, I began at the Refugee Council in London. I was shocked to hear about children who were locked up in British jails because they had arrived without proper papers. I knew about black South African children in prison because they had protested against apartheid. But this was Britain... and hadn’t we signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child?

Among many letters about The Other Side of Truth, I shall never forget the children who wrote to say their school in Glasgow would soon be receiving asylum-seekers. They told me: “Our teacher and most of the class were almost crying at the end of the book.” They made me hopeful that they and their school would be welcoming to the newcomers. 


Read Beverley's stories

The Other Side of Truth

Beverley Naidoo

This is the story of 12 year-old Sade and her brother Femi who flee to Britain from Nigeria. Their father is a political journalist who refuses to stop criticising the military rulers in Nigeria. Their mother is killed and they are sent to London, with their father promising to follow. Abandoned at Victoria Station by the woman paid to bring them to England as her children, Sade and Femi find themselves alone in a new, often hostile, environment. Seen through the eyes of Sade, the novel explores what it means to be classified as 'illegal' and the difficulties which come with being a refugee.

Chain of Fire

Beverley Naidoo

Set in South Africa at the height of the apartheid regime, when the government started a policy of ethnic cleansing, forcibly removing people from their homes and moving them to so-called 'homelands'. Schoolchildren Naledi and Tiro are caught up in the protests and resistance as they and their grandmother are threatened with removal from their village. Protestors are arrested and beaten, but still people fight on. Freedom lies at the end of a long road.

Out of Bounds

Beverley Naidoo

A collection of short stories - four previously published and three new - linked by the theme of young people experiencing personal dilemmas. All are set in South Africa, first under apartheid and then after the first democratic elections. They cover the period from 1950 to 2000 and reflect the lives of a range of young people, black and white, living in what was for many years seen as the world's most openly racist society.

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