Run For Your Life, tells the story of 14-year-old Azari who arrives in Ireland with her mother, seeking safety and refuge from violence in her home country. In Ireland, Azari must live in a Direct Provision centre, far from her school and new friends. She faces intimidation and racism, and while she is welcomed by many people, Azari and other asylum-seekers are treated with savage hostility by a group of locals.
Azari’s fictional story is based on the interrupted lives of thousands of people in Direct Provision—many of whom are traumatised by war, displacement, and persecution. I wanted to portray something of the seismic shift all refugees face when they’re torn from everything familiar to them. We’re seeing this trauma daily now, in the faces of Ukranian refugees arriving on our shores as they flee the barbaric war in their country.
Research for Run For Your Life was challenging, mostly because it was difficult to meet people living in Direct Provision centres, and almost impossible to get inside one. When I wrote to one Direct Provision centre to ask about meeting with staff and/or residents, so I could represent fairly the voices of people involved, management told me they couldn’t speak with me until a written proposal was approved by the Reception and Integration Agency. My research is primarily based on the stories of current and former residents of Direct Provision centres I met and spoke with.
Developing Azari’s voice in Run For Your Life was something that also needed careful attention. She is a teenager from South Asia, seeing Ireland through new eyes. Her upbringing is deeply rooted in the customs and traditions of her home, which impact on how she sees the world. I wanted her voice to be authentic and fresh, seeing Ireland as an outsider. I have travelled a lot and drew on my own experience of arriving in a country—the first things I notice, what strikes me about a new place.
When I’ve travelled to developing countries, I’ve seen all too many children without proper education, healthcare, clean water and food. Girls in particular are frequently victims of human rights abuses. I’ve always been interested in the rights of the child, perhaps from having worked with vulnerable children on the margins of society, including children with disabilities, early school leavers, young offenders, and homeless children. I’ve been inspired to explore their experiences though my stories and writing. In my previous books, I’ve written about migration, homelessness, physical disability and child soldiers. My last book, A Dangerous Crossing, tells the story of a young Kurdish boy and his family who flee the Syrian civil war in search of safety.
It is important to acknowledge the existence of children living in Direct Provision and the lives they are forced to live. They are part of Irish society, yet in so many ways, hidden from us. Ireland has a long and shameful history of hiding away people we don’t wish to acknowledge, of keeping them apart from the rest of us, as if we might somehow be contaminated by them being among us. We’ve seen it with our Magdalene Laundries and the mother and baby homes. In time, children in Direct Provision will tell their own stories of growing up in these institutions, but until then, it is important to acknowledge them, which is what I want to do in Run For Your Life. Azari’s story shines a light on these children’s experiences.
With the Irish Refugee Council and Fighting Words, I’m running workshops with young asylum seekers in April to coincide with the publication of the book. Run For Your Life is in bookshops now.
(c) Jane Mitchell
About Run for your Life:
The first children’s book exploring Direct Provision, Ireland’s asylum-seeker accommodation system, from Jane Mitchell, the award-winning author of Chalkline and A Dangerous Crossing.
Azari’s life has been split in two and the halves are as different as lemons and mangoes. Running links the two parts of her life: sometimes when she runs it is because she wants to, because she feels strong and free. But sometimes it is because she has no other choice.
When Azari and her mother flee for their lives to Ireland they are put in a Direct Provision Centre. They must share a room with a stranger, eat food they don’t know the name of and answer intrusive questions from authorities.
Azari’s life has secrets; she must tell them so she can stop running and live a life where she can make her own decisions.
Order your copy online here.