Book Review Lightless Sky. Rochelle
The Lightless Sky is a true story based on a 12-year old boys’ horrific journey to seek asylum, gripping you from the offset.
Throughout the novel, Guwalli speaks of his childhood as he recalls fond memories of spending time with his grandparents and being surrounded by a loving family exhibiting their cultures and values.
In 2006 their lives were changed when his father and grandfather were sadly killed by the US troops during the war between the Taliban and Americans. Following this Guwalli and his 13-year-old brother Hazrat were hounded by both the Taliban and the Americans to join forces with them. This meant their lives were increasingly at risk leaving their mother to make the insufferable decision, paying smugglers $8,000 to find safety for her two eldest sons.
Before their journey had even begun the two brothers were separated, this then gave Guwalli a new reason to reach his ultimate destination to both seek safety and reunite with his brother.
This enthralling tale takes you on a journey into the dark as Guwalli witnesses’ brutality, Injustice, and poverty at its worse, forcing him to grow up quickly whilst building resilience and his own coping mechanisms.
Guwalli is soon affected by what he calls ‘a living game of snakes and ladders.’ (Passarlay, 2019, pg107) You can see how the hunger, desperation, and neglect quickly take their toll on the young boy. He firstly struggles to understand his own emotions and then moves into a state of depression and despair as he senses loneliness and desolation on this twelve-month voyage.
In 2007 Guwalli finally reached the UK and was reunited with his brother Hazrat. There was then further hinderances when the authorities questioned his age, alongside his ongoing poor mental health. Despite this Guwalli went on to be granted asylum in the UK, graduated successfully, married, and founded his charity ‘my bright kite’. However, one of Guwalli’s proudest moments was carrying the Olympic torch in the tour of Britain in 2012.
After reading this heart-rendering story I began to reflect on my views and cultures and how as a social worker these will be challenged as I work with an array of people.
I also began considering how people are not purely a product of their experiences but as social workers, we need to use intersectionality to ensure we understand an individual as whole, and not to do them an injustice.
Collins and Bilge (2016) describe intersectionality to analyse and understand the complexities of the world, both people and experiences. They agree it cannot be shaped by one factor and that the many axis such as race, class, religion, and sex can work together and influence one another. They refer to intersectionality as an analytic tool, which I agree and feel all social workers should use with everyone.
I also found it distressing to think of a child losing their innocence and witnessing such callousness. But also, it was ultimately inspiring as through all Guwalli’s hardship, he became successful and had a positive outlook, I especially like the quotation Guwalli uses ‘Every opportunity in life, takes us to another’ (Passarlay, 2019, p358).
This led me to research the resilience of a child and how we view childhood, I came across the Kauai Longitude Study which took place in many countries like the UK by Werner & Smith (1992). Looking at this I found that children who suffer more trauma in early life are most resilient, however, they may find it more testing to build attachments and can easily detach from people.
Werner & Smith (1992) followed up on this study in adulthood, which revealed those who had managed to successfully cope with trauma in childhood were likely to suffer with mental health issues in later adulthood.
Throughout the book, I felt anxious and began to consider people’s journeys in life and where it may take them. I contemplated that as social workers, we must listen to people and where they want to be and cogitate how we can support them to get there.
I also felt I was naïve to some of the harsh realities, like the neglect of a child as they travel unaccompanied, the mistreating and how people can use others to their advantage.
The one element which became significant to me was Guwalli’s mental health and the lack of support and provision there was for this. After working with children with emotional, social and behavioural difficulties in the past, I consider the emotional wellbeing of a child imperative. You can see throughout the story that Guwalli suffered physically due to hunger and exhaustion but to me, the reoccurrence of the depression, feeling of isolation and loneliness and the shocking night terrors caused me much desolation. This began me reflecting on what research has been done on refugee children’s mental health and what services are offered to them to support this.
During my learning, I was shocked to discover that a quarter of the growing number of refugees that come to England are children and that within these children there is an increased level of psychological morbidity, especially post-traumatic stress, depression and anxiety disorders. The 1989 UN Convention on the rights of a child offers the legal framework for the protection of a child, however, the national immigration law is often what is used therefore, human rights and national self-interest clash and the principle of promoting the refugee child best interest can be overlooked. Fazel & Stein (2002).
I was shocked to discover that refugee children in the UK are not deemed to be vulnerable children as per the Children’s act 1989, therefore, the best interest of the child is not taken into account, the use of the immigration and asylum policy is used and the two have very little cross-referencing. It also appears that due to the political debates concerning asylum seekers and refugees this can have a bearing on the relationship between the child and their social worker in place (Kohli, 2014).
This also came to light in the 2000 audit commission which quoted:
‘Many unaccompanied children have multiple needs because of their experiences of separation, loss and social dislocation. . .. Yet in many cases, they do not receive the same standard of care routinely afforded to indigenous children in need, even though their legal rights are identical.’ (Audit Commission, 2000: 66) (Kohli, 2014, p.13).
Without receiving the adequate care and understanding, these vulnerable children are unable to access services which they require after such trauma, therefore will restrain them from being able to move forward and build their lives. I believe that any child in the UK should be deemed as a ‘child in need’ and their best interest should be paramount.
Looking at this information I now consider, if this is the reason that these child refugees do not receive the correct and sufficient support and access to mental health care.
Children who have become separated from parents are deemed at more risk to suffer mental health issues than those who arrive in the UK with their parents. Kelly and Bokhari (2011) use the work of Bowlby (1953) to demonstrate that even short spells of separation from parents can cause long term damage to building relationships and social development.
It has been researched, more than half of child refugees suffer from poor mental health and the majority are the unaccompanied children. This is due to them being exposed to much more and at a higher risk, being more vulnerable. Many suffer post-traumatic stress syndrome, depression, and anxiety. The percentage of those suffering from poor mental health increases at the age of 18, this is seen to be due to them turning an adult age and risk of deportation. It is also said that having employment or being in education and having social commitments is associated with positive outcomes (Kelly & Bokhari, 2011).
The inclination for these minors to succeed and overcome any challenges is an important and clear characteristic which, as a social worker you would need to consider when working with them. They may demonstrate resilience whilst carrying out their daily lives. (Kohli, 2014. p.38).
Kohli (2014) discusses the work of Howe (1995) who explains the building blocks which he believes we need to use to promote the well-being of child refugees, these include: Understanding and compassion from those around them, both practical and nurturing support and psychotherapy to help them deal with their experiences and traumas and move forward.
I believe as social workers these three building blocks mentioned above are a prodigious foundation in which we can work with to ensure these children have the best start in the UK and all their individual needs are met.
The mental health of child refugees is unquestionably an area that needs more research and development. I feel the law on child refugees needs to be looked at and updated so that it comes in line or at least references the ‘children’s act 1989’ and the UN Convention on the rights of a child.
Collins, P.H., & Bilge, S. (2016). Intersectionality. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Fazel, M, & Stein, A. (2002). The Mental Health of refugee children. Archives of disease in childhood, 87, (5),366-370.
Kelly, E, & Bokhari, F. (2012). Safeguarding children from abroad: Refugee, asylum seeking and trafficked children in the UK. Jessica Kingsley.
Kohli, R.K.S. (2014). Social work with unaccompanied Asylum-seeking children. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Passarlay, G. (2019). The Lightless Sky. London: Atlantic books.
Werner, &Smith. (1992) A summary of recent research. In Goldstein, S., & Brooks, R.B(ED), (2012) Handbook of resilience in children, London: Springer.