Penguin & The Refugee Council

Welcome to ‘Turning 18’, a series of audio stories put together to mark 18 years of The Refugee Council’s Children’s Section. The stories in this collection are written and read by refugees inspired by the theme ‘turning 18’, with introductions by Zoë Wanamaker, Vivienne Westwood, Grayson Perry, and Peter Tatchell.

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Part 15: Chukwunwikezerammu

The final story in the Turning 18 series is by Chukwunwikezarramu, who turned 18 in Nigeria.  In his story, he discusses traditional gender roles in Nigerian society, describing 18 as a ‘magic number’, an age where men and women ‘arrive’ into the world.  He then recounts how, as a gay man, turning eighteen instigated an inner struggle, balancing the need to fit in whilst privately unravelling his identity.  He likens the end of his struggle to that of a caged bird that is finally freed. 

Chukwunwikezarramu fled Nigeria in 2007, where homosexual activity is illegal and can carry a punishment of up to 14 years in prison, or death by stoning.  Today he is an active LGBT rights campaigner and has received refugee status in the UK.  


Part 14: Farai

"The only benefit that I gained upon turning 18 was the right to vote. I looked forward to the day when I could cast a vote against people who had made life hard for those turning 18.”


Grayson Perry introduces Farai’s story, which describes feelings of unease toward coming-of-age in a country where opportunities for young people had been eroded by corruption and a poorly managed economy. Against this landscape the piece hails the right to vote as a passage to freedom.

Farai is originally from Zimbabwe where he was politically active, campaigning for the Movement for Democratic change. His belief in the party’s work led to numerous arrests and imprisonment by the authorities. Attacks and beatings during this time drove him to seek sanctuary in the UK in 2011. As an adult asylum seeker in the UK whose case is pending, Farai finds himself on the outskirts of society. He is trying to gain valuable skills and keep himself active by volunteering his time to a health charity.

A study published this month by the Refugee Council highlights the ongoing human rights abuses and persecution in Zimbabwe, and other African countries, where a high number of asylum seekers come from. The report highlights the situation that asylum seekers in the UK find themselves in if their case is refused but they are unable to return to their country. You can read an overview here or download the full report here.

Part 13: Nagiib

"There was new life in my world and I learned things I could never have imagined. 


Nagiib fled the civil war in Somalia when he was just eight years old and settled with his parents and sisters in Amsterdam until he was twenty-three.  He turned eighteen while living in Amsterdam.

In his story, Nagiib takes us on an exhilarating journey through Amsterdam’s shimmering nightlife on the night of his 18th birthday.  Traversing the nocturnal hangouts of the city with his closest friend he takes time to reflect on memories of a refugee camp and a childhood  ruptured by war.  His story uncovers themes of discovery and hope whilst reflecting on loss and separation from a former life.

Part 12: Eric

“Suddenly I was told in a letter, that everything would be different.”


Zoe Wanamaker introduces Eric’s poignant story about turning 18 as a refugee without status.  In the piece Eric describes his eighteenth birthday as a time of fear.  It uncovers one man’s lonely journey through the asylum system, and also offers insight as to what it means to be a man.

Eric came to England aged 17 from Uganda, where he had been forced to fight as a child soldier.  His family were killed before he left, along with his two brothers who were also child soldiers. After managing to escape he was brought to the UK by an agent. He was homeless when he arrived for a month in the middle of winter.  He spent a week looking for the Refugee Council who helped him navigate the asylum system, and gain the support of social services.

Over the course of the Turning 18 series, we’ve heard a myriad of stories written and told through the voices of refugees living in the UK.  The voices give wide-ranging insights into a common theme – coming-of-age - and they present various visions of UK life.  In this video, artist Grayson Perry (who also introduces some of the stories in the series) comments on the presence of refugee voices within the UK, describing our society as ‘a collage of culture.’

Turning 18 is an audio series put together to mark 18 years of the Refugee Council’s Children’s Section, who work to support separated child refugees in the UK.  

Part 11: Beverley Naidoo

‘Once I became aware of the cruelty and inhumanity of our state, I was faced with a choice. If I chose to do nothing, I remained complicit.’


In this special edition of the Turning 18 audio series, author Beverley Naidoo narrates a short memoir recounting her experience of turning 18 in South Africa, where, as a university student, her eyes were opened to the oppression of the apartheid system.

Beverley Naidoo is the author of The Other Side of Truth, a powerful portrayal of child refugees, which won the Carnegie Medal in 2000 and the Jane Addams Award in 2002.

Turning 18 is an audio series in support of the Refugee Council’s Children’s Section. Most of the stories in the series have been written and are narrated by refugees.  Here we have a short video featuring Valentina, who wrote Part 1 in the series.  In the video, Valentina discusses her involvement in the turning 18 project.

Turning 18: Valentina from Penguin Audiobooks on Vimeo.

To find out more about the work of the Refugee Council’s Children’s Section click here. To make a £10 donation to the Refugee Council Text ‘TURN18’ £10 to 70070.

Part 10: Melody

"On my eighteenth birthday my life was a mess."

The extraordinary story of Melody, who was trafficked to the UK from Nigeria at the age of 12. When she first arrived she thought she had come to London on a holiday but soon realised that this was not the case. Melody was unable to leave the house she was brought to and was forced to work as a domestic slave.  Her story is also the subject of this short animation:

Her story reflects on her experiences after she escaped and found herself alone and homeless on the streets of London. The piece reveals an incredible ability to survive and overcome the most extreme adversity.

The story is introduced by campaigner Peter Tatchell. Here, Peter Tatchell discusses the Turning 18 series of audio stories.

Peter Tatchell On Turning 18 from Penguin Audiobooks on Vimeo.

This series has been put together to mark 18 years of the Refugee Council’s Children’s Section. To make a £10 donation to the Refugee Council Text ‘TURN18 £10’ to 70070.

Part 9: Henry

Vivienne Westwood introduces the remarkable story of Henry, who was enlisted as a child into a violent rebel training camp in northern Uganda. In this story, Henry traces his path from Uganda to present day London, describing how the Refugee Council’s Children’s Section played a pivotal role in helping him rebuild his life. After a feat of gritted determination, Henry will soon complete a PHD at one of the world’s most prestigious universities.

Despite the epic struggle which Henry describes, his story never strays too far from a core knowledge that it is the family around us, whether biological or constructed, which give us roots and help us grow.

The story is introduced by Vivienne Westwood, a supporter of Refugee Council.  In this video Vivienne Westwood gives us her thoughts on why we should protect refugees.

Vivienne Westwood Discusses Protection for Refugees from Penguin Audiobooks on Vimeo.

To find out more about the work of the Refugee Council’s Children’s Section click here.


Part 8: Amir

In an oppressive country, turning eighteen is less significant. It contains less meaning, less cause for celebration.”


Part 8 in the Turning 18 audio series is a searing account that explores a dark and lonely coming-of-age permeated by a threatening and omnipresent dictatorial state.

Amir is from Iran.  He was still living in the country when he turned 18 in 1991.  His student activism led him to lose his place at University, and this along with other factors meant he was forced to seek refuge outside of Iran.  His story examines the masks we wear, and measures oppression against the responsibility of new found freedom.

This story is introduced by Zoë Wanamaker.


Part 7: Joe Dunthorne


In this special edition of the Turning 18 audio series, author Joe Dunthorne narrates a short memoir describing where he was when he turned eighteen.The story takes the listener to a local pub in Swansea, where the author was beginning to make his way in the adult world.

Joe Dunthorne is the author of Submarine and Wild Abandon.  His stories, poems and journalism have been published in the Financial Times, The GuardianThe Independent, The Sunday Times and Poetry Review. He lives in London.

Turning 18 is an audio series in support of the Refugee Council’s Children’s Section. Most of the stories in the series have been written and are narrated by refugees, and published by Penguin to mark 18 years of the work of the Children’s Section. To find out more about their work click here. To make a £10 donation to the Refugee Council Text ‘TURN18’ £10 to 70070.

Part 6: Jade

"I wanted my own space now I have 2000 acres of space and it is swallowing me up."
Vivienne Westwood introduces Jade’s story - Part 6 in the Turning 18 series of audio stories written and read by refugees.
Jade was born and raised in Uganda, East Africa.  She has written two contrasting stories on the subject of turning 18.  The first is a factual account of what it was like to be a woman coming-of-age in Uganda.  Jade describes her surroundings, life in the home, and the different roles that men and women played in that society.  In the second story, Jade has created a fictional account of turning 18, imagining the milestone from the eyes of a young British girl.  The second piece re-imagines gender roles, family relationships, and freedom within Western society.
Jade fled Uganda in 2001 after her home and family were violently taken from her.  She is now a regular volunteer at The Refugee Council.  Her story is introduced by Vivienne Westwood who is a supporter of Refugee Council. 

Vivienne Westwood has narrated introductions to some of the stories in the series. She also gave us her thoughts on the role of empathy in society.