UNHCR Refugee Book initiative brings into light the refugee authors and books from different countries

Ukrainian and international writers who wrote about their refugee experiences joined UNHCR’s “Refugee Books Zone” at the 9th International Book Arsenal Festival in Kyiv, 22-26 May 2019

In collaboration with the Embassies of Canada, Denmark, Estonia, the Netherlands and Switzerland, UNHCR Ukraine hosted a “Refugee Books Zone”, in order to celebrate this year’s theme of the Book Arsenal Festival: “The Neighbourhood: An Open Question”. This year’s theme is meant to invite guests of the Festival to reflect on themes of coexistence and sharing common values. This year’s theme is particularly important in times when wars and conflicts force people to flee their homes and seek refuge elsewhere. Books are important tools for integration and expression. Therefore, books can be instrumental for displaced persons as they adapt to a new life and new realities, as well as for them to share their experience of forced displacement and make their voice heard.

With this is mind, the UN Refugee Agency’s “Refugee Books Zone” was created in the Book Arsenal Festival as a meeting place for writers, readers and the public at large to learn about refugee authors and their books. This initiative was aimed at giving Ukrainian readers and other festival visitors the opportunity to gain, through books and refugee authors, a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of forced displacement around the world. The space contrasted two “zones”, a very cosy and home-feeling place where visitors could sit and explore the different books written by refugees; with an area where visitors could interact with different household items that UNHCR distributes at the onset of an emergency, where that sense of “cosieness” is suddenly gone. There visitors could also read about different refugee camps established.

The “Refugee Book Zone” also hosted unique events in cooperation with the Embassies of Canada, Denmark, Estonia, the Netherlands and Switzerland, with renowned foreign authors came to Ukraine to present their books, some of them already translated into Ukrainian language.

The first event, organized together with the Embassy of Switzerland in Ukraine, was a presentation by Liz Page, Executive Director of International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) – and member of the Hans Christian Andersen Award Committee (the “Small Nobel Prize” of children’s literature), of 24 books from all over the world which recounts refugee stories and experiences. The presentation was attended by representatives of libraries and schools in Ukraine. UNHCR Ukraine is very grateful for the IBBY, which donated 50 silent books for children affected by conflict in Ukraine.

A second event was a “Human library” jointly organized with the Embassy of Denmark. The event counted with the presence of writers from Canada (Kim Thúy and Larry Tremblay), Denmark (Kristian Husted), Estonia (Imbi Paju), and the Netherlands (Kader Abdolah), all whom have written books that depict the experience of refugees. Ukrainian experts on refugee-related issues: Natalia Gourjii (“Rokada” Charity Fund) and Maxym Butkevych (“No Borders Project”) also jointed the event. After a an introduction of each author, the public at large was invited to sit with the authors and listen to their experience as refugees and of writing about their experience.

A third event was especially dedicated to children and gathered both Ukrainian and refugee children to hear the children’s book “My name is Maryam” being read by its author – Nadiyka Herbish, famous singer Mariya Burmaka and photomodel and writer, and Miss Ukraine 2007 Lika Roman.

As part of the programme, UNHCR Ukraine jointly with the Embassy of Denmark co-organized the meeting of students of the Kyiv Institute of International Relations with writer Kristian Husted, Danish dramatist and theatre director, who presented to students his book “Vahid” describing his experience of disguising himself as an “Iranian refugee” in order to experience the hardships and challenges endured by refugees as he traveled across to Greece, lived in a refugee camp and traveled across the Balkan Route and western Europe to reach his own country: Denmark.

UNHCR Ukraine is grateful to all participants and organizers, volunteers and partners, the Embassies of Canada, Denmark, Estonia, the Netherlands and Switzerland for their active participation in the events.

We welcome everybody to discover more about participants of the UNHCR Refugee Book initiative:


Kim Thúy is a Vietnamese-born Canadian writer, whose debut novel Ru won the Governor General’s Award for French-language fiction at the 2010 Governor General’s Awards in Canada. At the age of ten, Thúy left Vietnam with her parents and two brothers, joining more than one million Vietnamese boat people fleeing the country’s communist regime after the fall of Saigon in 1975. The family arrived at a refugee camp in Malaysia, run by the UNHCR, where they spent four months before a Canadian delegation selected them for refugee status. In her career, Thúy worked as a translator, an experts advising Vietnam’s government, an owner of a restaurant of modern Vietnamese cousine and a writer. Ms. Thuy wrote five books, one of which, “Ru” was translated into Ukrainian language.
Larry Tremblay (Canada) is a prominent writer from Quebec. He is a writer, director, actor and kathakali (traditional Indian dance native to the southern state of Kerala) specialist. He has published more than 30 books as a playwright, novelist, poet and essayist. Apart from his plays, Larry Tremblay published recently two novels highly acclaimed, The Obese Christ (2012), and The Orange Grove which won in 2014 the Quebec’s Bookseller Prize and sixteen other prizes in Canada and Europe. It is now published in 20 countries. At the Book Arsenal, Larry Tremblay will present Ukrainian translation of his book “The Orange Grove”.
Kristian Husted (Denmark) One day the author travels to the Greek island of Lesbos, changes identity from Danish to Iranian and begins life as the refugee Vahid. Together with others, he travels through Europe during the massive refugee flow in 2015, and experiences how people on the run are treated by the European asylum system. The journey ends in the Sandholm camp, from where Vahid is sent to a temporary asylum center at a closed school in Rødbyhavn on Lolland together with two hundred other men from all over the world. Danish Kristian Husted has made the journey – and laid down his experiences in the book “Vahid“.
Imbi Paju is an Estonian-born journalist, writer and filmmaker, who has been operating in Finland as a correspondent of the Estonian newspapers. Film director, author and journalist Imbi Paju has won international attention with Memories Denied (2005), the documentary film and book that show how the tragedy of an individual family repeated over and over gradually becomes a national tragedy, a part of the collective but interrupted European narrative, silenced by occupations and the cold reality of politics. In 2009 Imbi released her new documentary film Sisters across the Gulf of Finland. It is a story about how Estonian, Finnish and other Scandinavian women around Baltic Sea worked together to prevent the onset of crisis and war their own unique actions.
Kader Abdolah (Netherlands) is a Persian–Dutch writer, poet and columnist. He was born in Iran and lives in Netherlands now. He has written books and many articles in Dutch and is known for using Persian literary themes in his Dutch works. Kader Abdolah studied physics in Arak College of Science (today’s Arak University) in Arak, Iran, and graduated in 1977. After graduation he served his mandatory military service at Iranian Navy in Bandar Pahlavi (today’s Bandar-e-Anzali). During the revolution he joined the left-wing movement opposing the Shah – and later the Khomeini – regimes. He fled to the Netherlands as a political refugee in 1988. In 2006 he worked at Leiden University. Today he lives in Delft, writing under a pseudonym composed of the names of his two executed friends.
Liz Page (Switzerland) grew up and lived in England until 1985 when she and her family moved to Basel. She soon became involved with JuKiBu, the Intercultural Children’s Library in Basel, of which she was a founding member. Later, she was elected President of the Intercultural Children’s Libraries Association of Switzerland. She joined IBBY as Executive Assistant in 1997, worked as Administrative Director from 2003 to 2006 and Director of Member Services, Communications and New Projects until March 2009, when she was appointed Executive Director. Liz Page is also an ex officio member of Hans Christian Andersen Award Jury.


CONTACTS: UNHCR: Victoria Andrievska, +380 50 413 8404, [email protected]