Refugee Tales

Edited by David Herd & Anna Pincus

Two unaccompanied children travel across the Mediterranean in an overcrowded boat that has been designed to only make it halfway across…

A 63-year-old man is woken one morning by border officers ‘acting on a tip-off’ and, despite having paid taxes for 28 years, is suddenly cast into the detention system with no obvious means of escape…

An orphan whose entire life has been spent in slavery – first on a Ghanaian farm, then as a victim of trafficking – writes to the Home Office for help, only to be rewarded with a jail sentence and indefinite detention…

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. 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 the 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 pilgrims’ stories in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, this book offers rare, intimate glimpses into otherwise untold suffering.

All profits go to the Gatwick Detainee Welfare Group and Kent Help for Refugees


Refugee Tales is a wonderful way of re-humanising some of the most vulnerable and demonised people on the planet. This collection is both challenging and poignant. Readers will surely be moved to move their leaders to action.'
– Shami Chakrabarti 

'We hear so many of the wrong words about refugees - ugly, limiting, unimaginative words - that it feels like a gift to find here so many of the right words which allow us to better understand the lives around us, and our own lives too.'
- Kamila Shamsie

'In a terrible political year, I found Refugee Tales salutary, invigorating, and enlivening. A courageous book, it offers the reader great solace. It gives faces to the faceless, and voices to the voiceless, humanizing the people that our society demonizes.'
Jackie Kay's Pick's of the Year (2016) in The Scottish Review of Books

"Every tale is different, yet each speaks of vulnerable people in inhumane situations. Refugee Tales is a much-needed collection, providing vital insight into the lives of people who are, by their circumstances, dehumanised and left unable to communicate their experiences."
- Thresholds 

'The Refugee Tales project is helping to reshape the discussion around the treatment of those who have travelled long distances, often in unimaginably difficult circumstances, in order to find safety. In so doing, it has also served to highlight the broader injustices of the British immigration system, as well as of how it forms part of a vast network of exclusionary and violent border policies that stretches across and, increasingly, beyond Europe'
Tom White, The Glasgow Review of Books

'What would our world look like if we taught literature like Refugee Tales in our high schools and colleges, to students beginning to form what will become enduring (and ever hardening) perceptions of where they belong in relation to that world? What would it mean to never teach Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales without Refugee Tales alongside it? As much as Chaucer is the father of English literature, Refugee Tales and the culture it creates can be its future.' - Public Books

Ali Smith’s ‘The Detainee’s Tale’ is available on the Guardian website.

Listen to Patience Agbabi talk about her story 'The Refugee's Tale' on BBC Radio 4's Start the Week (16 May, 2016) 'World on the Move', available here.

Listen to Editor Anna Pincus and author Patience Agbabi talk on BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour (15 June, 2016), edited by Jackie Kay

Read a summary of the project in The Guardian 

Read a summary of the project in The Independent 

Read Chris Cleave's story 'The Lorry Driver's Tale' in The Irish Times

Listen to Ali Smith and David Herd discuss the collection on the Guardian Books Podcast (24 June, 2016)

Editor David Herd's article 'Outside the Skin of Language' in Times Literary Supplement

'A good book can forge powerful empathies'  - The National 

Read contributor Inua Ellams' blog about the Refugee Tales project on the Wasafiri website, part 1 and part 2

Refugee Tales discussed on Radio Ulster's Sunday Sequence programme (3 July, 2016)

Read Olivia Laing's column on Refugee Tales in The Observer 

Watch Ali Smith, Patience Agbabi and David Herd read from Refugee Tales at the closing event of the second Refugee Tales walk, which took place at the ICA on the 8th July

Listen to Clare Balding discuss Refugee Tales with group of particpants on Radio 4's Ramblings (24 May, 2018)

Buy Hard Copy

Retail Price £9.99

Online Price £8.75

Buy the eBook

Buy Single Stories

The Dependant's Tale
The Appellant's Tale

Book Details

23 Jun 2016