Skip to content

What is it really like for asylum seekers?

June 20, 2018

Every so often, a book comes along that really gets under your skin.  The Boat People by Sharon Bala did this to me.

To be honest, it was lucky that I did actually read the entire book, as the first quarter or so was difficult for me.  I found it hard to follow, and difficult to work out who the characters were and what their role was in this story.  However it may not be the book that is the problem, it may be the reader!  I can tend to be a lazy reader, wanting the book to “grab” me instantly.  This didn’t, and I had to work at it.  But something told me to keep going with it.

Inspired by the  MV Sun Sea incident in 2010, when a Thai cargo ship ferrying 492 Sri Lankan asylum seekers was intercepted off the coast of British Columbia,  this story hits you hard.  Going backwards and forwards in time between Sri Lanka and Canada, it’s told from the perspective of the refugees – in particular Mahindan (a father with a young son), his lawyer Priya, and the adjudicator Grace, who is third generation Japanese-Canadian.  It gives you a real insight into the lives of the refugees, who were victims of a terrible civil war between the Sinhalese and the Tamils.  The asylum seekers were detained upon reaching Canada, while each case was examined to prove they were not, or had not been, involved in terrorist activity as part of the Tamil Tigers (LTTE).  There was much suspicion and controversy surrounding this situation at the time, which made it very difficult for the authorities to make the right decision with each case.  The ones who were sent back would have faced certain death.  A  terrible situation all round.

The story highlights such a tragic situation surrounding conflict, war and the innocents who are caught up in it.  It makes for a very confronting and illuminating read.  I had no prior knowledge of the Sri Lanka civil war.  This book relayed it to me in a very personal way, and the reality of what so many innocent people went through, and in fact are still going through in so many countries around the world.  Confronting, tragic and inspiring.  A very important read.   I would be interested to hear comments from other readers on whether they found it hard to get into and get a grasp on as I had.  I am tempted to read it again actually.



“An asylum seeker is a person who flees their home country (usually as a political refugee or victim of war), enters another country and then applies for asylum, i.e. the right to international protection, in this other country. The request for refugee sanctuary is yet to be processed.  A migrant is different – they have chosen to move not because of a direct threat or persecution, but to improve their lives. They may safely return to their country if they wish.” 

Another viewpoint


From → Author Review

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: