Human Cargo A Journey Among Refugees

Caroline Moorehead




Trade Paperback

416 Pages


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A National Book Critics Circle Award FinalistAn American Library Association Notable Book of the Year In Human Cargo, Caroline Moorehead takes readers on a journey to understand why millions of people are forced to abandon their homes, possessions, and families in order to find a place where they may, quite literally, be allowed to live. In spite of the fact that refugees surround us—recent UN estimates suggest that their numbers approach 20 million—few grasp the scale of their presence. Moorehead's experience living and working with refugees puts a human face on the news, providing indelible portraits of not only refugees but also the countries from which they fled, as well as those that host them, the men and women who help them, and, finally, those who have not.

Moorehead has traveled for nearly two years and across four continents to bring us these unforgettable stories. In prose that is at once affecting and informative, she introduces us to the men, women, and children she meets as she travels to Cairo, Guinea, Sicily, the U.S.-Mexico border, Lebanon, England, Australia, and Finland. Among others, we learn about Salaam, an Iraqi Catholic persecuted by Saddam Hussein's regime, and his struggle to reach San Diego through Mexico with his sister; and Mary, a fifty-year-old American who works with the International Rescue Committee in Guinea to provide schooling for refugees from Iran who escaped a Tehran prison to establish a trauma center in England for victims of torture. Moorehead illustrates why the "problem" of 20 million people stuck in limbo—unable to work, educate their children, or otherwise contribute to society—is on a par with global crises such as terrorism and world hunger.


Praise for Human Cargo

"It is Moorehead's sensitivity to . . . historical circumstances and political contingencies—not to mention her considerable skills as a writer and storyteller—that makes her book such a vital contribution to debates over migration . . . She differs from those showy journalists of alarm who view the distress of others as an opportunity for overwrought prose and self-display . . . [S]he is devoted to the quiet narration of disquieting fact . . . If her grief is universal, her eye and ear are local, attuned and affixed to the toll of state policies and their historical context. Inevitably, she brings to mind the great Martha Gellhorn, the subject of her last biography, whose 'small, still voice' carried a 'barely contained fury and indignation at the injustice of fate and man against the poor, the weak, the dispossessed.'"—The Nation
"[A] humane and touching book."—The Star-Ledger (Newark)

"A profound book."—John Freeman, The Hartford Courant

"Compelling . . . With one poignant tale after another, [Human Cargo] triggers a reader's feelings of outrage and tragedy."—Rich Barlow, The Boston Globe
"One of the most moving and illuminating accounts of people out of place. In documenting the complexity of their condition, [Moorehead] deciphers their full humanity. And she captures the workings of the refugee system through the people who work in it and navigate constraints on budgets and quotas, and their tempers."—Saskia Sassen, Ralph Lewis Professor of Sociology at the University of Chicago and author of Globalization and Its Discontents
"Journalist and biographer Moorehead provides a passionate brief on behalf of millions of refugees across the globe . . . Her unflinching depiction of cases without end and governments without mercy recalls the works of Kafka, Dickens, and Naipaul. Dozens of portraits give sinew and voice to representative examples of this human flotsam. Mothers quietly mourn babies they were forced to leave on the roadside; young men stare sullenly, unable to comprehend how to get out of their camps; and children grapple with traumatic memories of torture and death. It is nearly impossible not to be moved by such plights . . . she evokes refugees' chaotic and miserable conditions with searing power, as in this description of Cairo: 'Wherever the buildings are most derelict, the electricity supplies most sporadic, the water least reliable, there the refugees live.' A compassionate and sterling chronicler rescues from facelessness the victim-survivors of man's inhumanity to man."—Kirkus Reviews
"British writer Moorehead is a superb biographer, most recently of writer of conscience Martha Gellhorn, and a newspaper columnist who has been writing about human rights for 25 years. She now presents a landmark overview of the fate of refugees as millions of people all around the world are either searching for a better life or seeking asylum after surviving persecution, rape, torture, and genocidal massacres . . . Painstaking in her marshalling of facts and unflinching in her reportage, Moorehead purposefully illuminates the suffering endured by refugees and all the travesties, paradoxes, and tragedies engendered by the failure to act on their behalf . . . Moorehead's lucid reporting and focus on individuals make this survey of the fate of refugees accessible."—Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)
"Moorehead's lyrical, moving narrative brings to life the horror that many [refugees] fled, the obstacles they have had to overcome, and the medical and social consequences of their condition . . . Recommended."—Marcia L. Sprules, Council on Foreign Relations Library, New York, Library Journal
"The intractable, multifaceted problem of people driven from their homes by poverty, violence or persecution is given a human face in this moving survey of the refugee experience . . . Moorehead draws sympathetic portraits of individual refugees, replete with horror stories of the travails they fled and their precarious but hopeful efforts to build new lives, but also pulls back to examine what she says are the sometimes counterproductive policies of aid organizations and the indifference and callousness of Western governments."—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads



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Caroline Moorehead is the author of Gellhorn, and has been a columnist covering human rights for two British newspapers. She has worked directly with African refugees in Cairo in recent years. She lives in London.
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  • Caroline Moorehead

  • Caroline Moorehead, a distinguished biographer, has served as a columnist on human rights for The Times (London) and The Independent (London). More recently, she has worked directly with African refugees in Cairo as a founder of a legal advice office in addition to raising funds for a range of educational projects. She is the author of Gellhorn and lives in London.