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Doro: Refugee, Hero, Champion, Survivor: A deliverance, a rescue against the odds

The story of Doro Ģoumãňęh’s migration is lyrical and descriptive, and sometimes repetitive, in the same way that the horrors he’s recounting are

Doro: Refugee, hero, champion, survivor
Doro: Refugee, hero, champion, survivor
Author: Brendan Woodhouse and Doro Ģoumãňęh
ISBN-13: 978-1800182554
Publisher: Unbound
Guideline Price: £18.99

It was early 2019, in the Central Mediterranean Sea, when Brendan Woodhouse and Doro Ģoumãňęh first came face to face. Woodhouse was a volunteer rescuer, who had taken leave from his fire fighting job in the UK to drive an inflatable rescue boat for German charity Sea Watch. Ģoumãňęh was a former fisherman, aboard a dinghy, using his charisma and the trust he had built to calm the refugees and migrants fleeing North Africa with him. They desperately hoped to be told, by Woodhouse and his colleagues, that they would not be returned there.

This book is due to that day of deliverance; a rescue against the odds. In the following weeks, Woodhouse and Ģoumãňęh became easy friends and confidants, their intimacy enhanced because of the lengthy wait they had on Sea Watch’s ship, as European countries argued as to where the vessel should be allowed to dock.

Doro: Refugee, Hero, Champion, Survivor tells Ģoumãňęh’s full migration story. It is presented through both men’s alternating voices. Ģoumãňęh’s own language is preserved. His words are lyrical and descriptive, and sometimes repetitive, in the same way that the horrors he’s recounting are. Woodhouse moves between factual and moralistic, adding context and empathetic pronouncements. His interviews with Ģoumãňęh were done on the phone or in person in France.

The book is dedicated to the “people who did not make it”: those who drowned in the sea; died in the desert or in torture camps; perished while homeless in Europe; or killed themselves. It is also dedicated to the “creators and enforcers of our hostile environment, which punishes refugees for just trying to survive… We see your racism… for you would have stopped all of this if the people that were coming were white.”

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Through detailing one individual story, it is also a clear criticism of European migration policy. More than 21,000 people have drowned or gone missing since 2014 along the Central Mediterranean route, known as the deadliest such route in the world. It’s only by chance that Ģoumãňęh wasn’t one of them.

They sell us because the black man is a business in Libya… Every black man in Libya is money

—  Doro Ģoumãňęh

Ģoumãňęh grew up between The Gambia and Senegal. He speaks multiple languages, and goes by “Mo”, meaning “helper”. His father was a fisherman, and Ģoumãňęh, we’re told, had his own prosperous fishing business until authorities began to covet the profit for themselves, putting his life in danger. When he fled home in 2014, he did not initially plan to go far or for long. He left behind a wife and two children: the youngest a son he has never met.

The book was funded through Unbound, a crowdfunding publisher, where it got more than 740 supporters. (Full disclosure: though I don’t believe Woodhouse and I have ever met, he has been my Facebook friend for a while and I believe I gave a pledge last year towards the creation of the book, in exchange for receiving a digital copy of it.)

“Forgive me if this does not have the articulation of a poet,” Woodhouse writes near the beginning, explaining that he is not a professional writer or a journalist. He is certainly a writer though. The book is well constructed, and easy to read too, despite its heartbreaking contents. The combination of hearing from a rescuer, and someone rescued, gives us a unique and valuable perspective on one of the major human rights crises of our times.

Ģoumãňęh’s own style of speaking is preserved as he describes being held and tortured by smugglers, and being caught by the EU-supported Libyan coast guard and locked up. “They sell us because the black man is a business in Libya… Every black man in Libya is money.”

The judgments of people back home don’t really matter when you’re sat next to someone who has been tortured. All I feel is empathy

—  Brendan Woodhouse

His story is harrowing. Death was ever present. But there is charity and goodness too. That includes a moving portrayal of the friendship between Ģoumãňęh and his friend Ibrahim, who live, work and travel together. We feel his devastation when Ibrahim succumbs to wounds inflicted by smugglers, and Ģoumãňęh cries for him, surrounded by people who “were not crying for Ibrahim. They were crying for themselves” – worried that they would be next.

Woodhouse says his views have developed since he met his “first refugee” in Calais, France, in 2015. Now he dreams “of a world where anyone can move anywhere”, “a kind world”. He wants to “be” and “live” that change.

“The judgments of people back home don’t really matter when you’re sat next to someone who has been tortured. All I feel is empathy. So people can write what they want on social media, and make whatever judgments that they choose to, but until they can look someone like Doro in the eyes and say ‘send them back’, then maybe they should just stay quiet,” Woodhouse writes.

More than 800 people have drowned or gone missing in the Central Mediterranean this year alone, and – with the crisis in Sudan set only to exacerbate the situation – understanding what is happening is more vital than ever. This moving book is one place you could start.

Sally Hayden

Sally Hayden

Sally Hayden, a contributor to The Irish Times, reports on Africa