Refugee Tales: Modern reboot of The Canterbury Tales to tell harrowing refugee stories

Writers Ali Smith and Patience Agbabi have contributed to the short story collection 

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The Independent Culture

Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales have been given a modern reboot to share the harrowing real-life experiences of Europe’s refugees.

Refugee Tales will be published next week, featuring 14 short stories written by reputed authors including Ali Smith, Patience Agbabi and Chris Cleave.

The writers have collaborated with anonymous refugees and immigration workers to tell “compelling, shocking and truthful” stories based as closely as possible on actual events. 

Stories among the collection include “The Detainee’s Tale”, about an orphaned human trafficking victim detained indefinitely by the Home Office after seeking help, and another about a 63-year-old man who finds himself “cast into the detention system” despite paying his taxes for 28 years after border officers receive a tip-off. The tales are intended to offer “rare, intimate glimpses into otherwise untold suffering” as many asylum seekers struggle with the frustration of being voiceless.


“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,” says Manchester publisher Comma Press. “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 their 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 pilgrim’s stories in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, this book offers rare, intimate glimpses into otherwise untold suffering.”

Refugee Tales arrives on 23 June, with all profits going to Kent Help for Refugees and the Gatwick Detainee Welfare Group. The latter charity organised a Dover to Crawley walk last summer, with the authors reading their stories at evening events. It will be repeated in July, from Canterbury to London, before ending with a series of events in the capital, including a music performance involving Billy Bragg and a reading of Shakespeare’s “Thomas More’s appeal for mercy in the treatment of refugees” by actor Jeremy Irons.

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