REPRESENTATION World Refugee Day, June 20


World Refugee Day falls on June 20th annually. It’s a day set aside to honour the many people who have been forced to leave their homes. Representation Feature Editor, Eva Wong Nava, takes a look at some books that pay homage to refugee children.


The first World Refugee Day happened on June 20, 2001, and it was to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1951 Convention that relates to the Status of Refugees. You may know it as Africa Refugee Day as it was originally known before it was officially designated as an international day in December 2000, changing its name to what we are familiar with now.


This is the day that we support refugees through events, which are mostly led by refugees themselves, and they are part of the activities designed by government agencies, companies and/or schools.


This year’s theme is solidarity. It calls for all of us to stand together to celebrate the strengths and achievements of refugees globally and to reflect on the challenges that refugees face on a daily basis. Let’s not forget that refugees are those who’ve had to flee their homelands for a variety of reasons: war, health, persecution and censorship.


You can find out more here.


As a reader, writer and mother who relies on and uses literature to help my children navigate the world, I’ve always turned to books.


When I first read The Arrival (Arthur A. Levine Books 2007) by Shaun Tan, I was blown away by the illustrations and how they conveyed a sense of alienation through the colour palette. It’s now become a classic and a book with pictures that I recommend to anyone asking about illustrated books.


Another book with pictures with a similar monochromatic palette is The Paper Boat (Owlkids 2020) by Thao Lam. This is a wordless story of one family’s harrowing escape from Vietnam that has a parallel narrative mirrored by the perilous journey on a paper boat by a colony of ants. I love the collage art by Thao and the concept behind the story: a journey intertwined with that of a colony of ants. We are all interconnected. 


My Name Is Not Refugee (The Bucket List, 2017) by Kate Milner reminds us to humanise refugees. The pastel shades are more uplifting even as the general colour palette is still muted. The story digs deep into what being a refugee is through the eyes of a child, asking the young reader to imagine the decisions that becoming a refugee entails. It is easy to see why this book won two prestigious awards.


I don’t often recommend books for adults in this segment, but I’ll make an exception for Aamna Mohdin’s Scattered: The making and unmaking of a refugee (Bloomsbury, 2024). It’s fresh off the press and is a “staggering investigation” into the consequences of being displaced, of being a refugee and of reckoning with the fact that you were once a refugee. It is the story of one woman’s journey of self-discovery and her parents’ personal history of fleeing from Somalia at the height of the civil war.





*Header image: Ell Rose and Tita Berredo


Eva Wong Nava
writes for children. She once volunteered at a holding centre for Vietnamese refugees in Singapore. There she taught children English and helped them with their letters. Many of these children left with their families for Australia, Canada and America later. When the last of the refugees were safely placed, the refugee centre shut its doors in 1990. She stands in solidarity with all refugees in seeking peace on earth. You can find Eva on social media @evawongnava.

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