They Cannot Take the Sky reviewed by Tara

This book is a collection of short narratives by men, women and children who have been detained by the Australian government after seeking asylum in Australia. Each person has fled to Australia seeking asylum, believing that they will be given their fundamental human rights. Instead they are stripped of their identity, dehumanised, recognised by a number rather than their name, and held indefinitely in a place with basic facilities, without any idea of what is going on or how long they will be detained.

In They Cannot Take the Sky each person is recognised by name and given the opportunity to tell the part of their story that they want others to hear. It is a record of the experiences of individuals in Australian detention centres. Each story is as unique as the individual whose life it describes. The stories provide insight into the reasons individuals flee their country, the sorrow of separation from loved ones, the perils of the journey, the shattered expectations of receiving just process, the confusion of being detained, the inconsistencies in the processing of applications and the experience of being released from detention.

I was shocked at the treatment some individuals described, comparing the detention centres to places of psychological torture where people are held indefinitely, often with little to do, with no information about what is happening, and processes that are randomly changing to avoid any sense of security. It was also confronting to read the descriptions of techniques used to destroy peoples hope of being able to settle in Australia and to encourage them to accept offers of relocation to another country.

I was surprised by the courage and resilience of the people who shared their stories. The narrators recount the skills, the thoughts and the interactions that helped them survive yet another period of hardship on their flight to freedom. There are many accounts of an individual who was kind and the difference that these encounters made. Many narrators used the process of writing as a means of passing time and externalising the things they were thinking. There is also a hope that the narratives will reveal a new perspective on mandatory detention, namely, the reality of the people who have lived it. This is one way that their voices are heard.



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