Citizens of Nowhere: From Refugee Camp to Canadian Campus
Canada: Doubleday Canada, 2010. pp. 326.
With one of the worst droughts in over half a century, the population of the Dadaab refugee camps bordering Somalia--originally built to accommodate 90,000--has swelled to over 440,000 as of August 2011. (1) Given the hardships borne by individuals "warehoused" in one of the most prolonged cases of exile in the world today, Goodwin's book Citizens of Nowhere offers a timely and poignant account of persevering young refugees in Kenya who seek to better their prospects by resettling in Canada. The idea for the book was germinated during Goodwin's 2007 trip to Dadaab as the producer of the award-winning documentary The Lucky Ones. Like the documentary, Citizens of Nowhere offers an intimate look at the conflicting emotions faced by refugee youth (between seventeen and twenty-four years old) who are the recipients of a coveted resettlement opportunity to pursue their tertiary education at colleges and universities across Canada. It is an opportunity that represents both a solution to protracted exile and a new form of dislocation--a journey away from the familiarities of "home."
Over the course of five chapters (326 pages), Goodwin traces the turbulent lives of eleven refugee students (ten Somalis and one Oromo) for one year as they resettle in Canada through the World University Service of Canada's Student Refugee Program (WUSC SRP), and confront the challenges of cultural adjustment, isolation, and integration. The WUSC SRP offers a particularly intriguing (and exceptional) case study as it is the only program of its kind in the world to link resettlement with access to post-secondary education. In featuring eleven of the over 1,000 students who have been sponsored by the WUSC SRP since 1978, the book offers "a snapshot of a refugee's first year in Canada [...] of the challenges to their identities, of the changes in their attitudes toward their own culture and their new country." (2) While Citizens of Nowhere displays the same narrative qualities as other popular literature on transnational refugee youth (such as They Threw Fire on Us from the Sky and What Is the What), (3) Goodwin moves away from the subject of "Lost Boys" in America, to engage with the previously unexamined case of Somali youth in Canada.
Goodwin's knack for storytelling enables her to paint a vivid image of the many localities surveyed in the book (from the camps of Dadaab to the bustling streets of Toronto and Vancouver and prairie communities in Brandon and Sakatoon), as well as to construct an intimate portrait of each student's psychosocial journey through the resettlement process. What results is an engaging narrative that skillfully blends subjective, sociological, and historical elements. She refrains from being an omniscient narrator by acknowledging her positionality within the story, both as a witness and a source of social support to the students, weaving in personal reflections and anecdotes where appropriate. That said, Goodwin also gives voice to the students in creative ways by incorporating their Facebook and email communications, editorials written for Dadaab newsletters, and excerpts of essays written at Canadian universities.
Goodwin draws on over one hundred interviews (4) and hours of observation, in both Kenya and Canada, and her journalistic background is ever present. She provides a brief, yet thorough, background on refugee issues in Canada and Kenya, the role of the UNCHR and other NGO actors in Dadaab and the Somali conflict...