We are delighted to bring you this book review by our Trustee John Borton:
Doro: Refugee, Hero, Champion, Survivor Doro Ģoumãňęh and Brendan Woodhouse Published in 2023 by Unbound Ebook £9.99 Hardback £18.99
It feels a bit odd to be writing book review of a book co-written by a friend and for which I provided feedback on an early draft. But it also feels absolutely right because this is a book that needs to be widely read.
Co-written by Doro Ģoumãňęh and Brendan Woodhouse, the book tells Doro’s story of his journey to Europe. Before 2014 Doro had been a relatively prosperous fisherman in The Gambia, but his livelihood dissapeared as a result of fishing rights being sold by the corrupt and autocratic government of President Jammeh and, facing likely imprisonment or being ‘disappeared’, he decided to try to reach Europe to earn money in safety. His journey took him from Senegal to Libya to Algeria and back to Libya during which time he made three unsuccessful attempts to make the crossing to Europe and fell victim to the horrific cycle of abuse, exploitation, tortue and extortion experienced by many black African refugees trying to reach Europe. Miraculously Doro survived. It was on his fourth attempt in January 2019, in a smuggler-operated blue rubber dingy, that he and 46 others were rescued in international waters by the German NGO-operated Sea-Watch 3.
Brendan, was a volunteer crew member on Sea Watch 3 and was the driver of the rigid-hull inflatable boat (RHIB) that carried out the actual rescue. Brendan is a Nottingham-based firefighter who was volunteering on what was intended to be a two week mission. Brendan describes himself as a ‘typical Geordie’, an avid supporter of Newcastle United who loves to joke, but inside he is a huge-hearted person with a deeply held sense of what is right and what is wrong and a conviction that Europe’s treatment of refugees is an affront to our fundamental values. Since 2015, he has committed much of his spare time between work shifts with Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service to supporting refugees by delivering supplies donated to Derbyshire Refugee Solidarity to camps in northern France, and helping to rescue refugees crossing the Mediterranean.
His initial rescues were on the north shore of Lesvos with Lighthouse Relief, a Swedish volunteer rescue team, and then, after gaining his RHIB master certification, by volunteering with Sea Watch on search and rescue missions on the central Mediterranean route.
For ten days following the rescue, Sea-Watch 3 was prevented from landing the 47 people in Italy on the instruction of Mateo Salvini the then Minister of the Interior, who threatened the crew with criminal charges for ‘facilitating illegal migration’. Finally, after other EU countries had agreed to take the 47 people, Sea-Watch 3 was eventualy allowed to disembark them at Catania, Sicily and, shortly after, Doro was transferred to France where he has been granted asylum.
The mutual respect between Doro and Brendan began during the rescue, and their friendship was forged in the days that followed on the crowded deck of Sea-Watch 3. Untrusting of journalists he had encountered, Doro asked Brendan to be the person to help him tell his story. Told through both Doro’s and Brendan’s perspectives, the book touches on questions of policy and politics, brutality and bravery, survival and belonging – issues that confront refugees everywhere.
Many books have been published over the last 15 years or so on the experience of those attempting to cross the Mediterranean to reach Europe. For instance, My Fourth Time, We Drowned: Seeking refuge on the World’s deadliest migration route published in 2022 by the exceptional journalist Sally Hayden, provides more of an overview whilst also telling refugee’s stories from their own perspectiveis. Quite rightly her book is winning numerous awards. But, as far as I know, Doro’s story, as told with the help of his friend Brendan, is unique in focussing just on the story of one person, which gives it a rare honesty and insight into the realities of what is going on in north Africa and the Mediterranean every single day.
A remarkable book by two remarkable human beings.