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Gulwali Passarlay: The Lightless Sky

‘To risk my life had to mean something. Otherwise what was it all for?’

Gulwali Passarlay introduces The Lightless Sky

A gripping, inspiring, and eye-opening memoir of survival – of a twelve-year-old boy’s traumatic flight from Afghanistan to the West – a book that puts a face to one of the most shocking and devastating humanitarian crises of our time. I am that boy. The book is based on my life.

In 2006 I was 12. My father was killed and I was caught between the Taliban, who wanted to recruit my 13-year-old brother and I, and the American military who wanted to use us as informers. We were innocent pawns in a dirty game of war that wasn’t ours.

To protect us, our mother sent us away. The search for safety would lead my 12-year-old self across 8 countries, from the mountains of eastern Afghanistan through Iran and Europe to Britain. Over the course of a year, I endured beatings, imprisonment, hunger, cruelty, brutality, loneliness, and terror. I nearly drowned crossing the Mediterranean Sea and spent harrowing weeks living like an animal in the so-called Calais jungle. Eventually I made it to England where a new and even harder challenge began – convincing a sceptical Home Office of the truth of my story. Slowly I learned English, won a place at university and was chosen to help carry the Olympic Torch in the 2012 London Games.

In The Lightless Sky, I lay bare my experience and offer a first-hand look at one of the most pressing issues of our time: the modern refugee crisis. The Lightless Sky is a poignant account not only of my life but of the other refugees I met along the way. Not all of them made it to safety. And without the friends who helped me along the way – those who looked out for the scared 12-year-old child in their midst – I know I would not have made it either.

The Lightless Sky is a reminder of our responsibilities to those caught in terrifying and often deadly circumstances beyond their control. But it is also a reminder that refugees are human too. And proof that humanity and kindness can exist everywhere.

Gulwali Passarlay arrived in the UK at the age 13 as a political refugee. Like many refugees, he has overcome the hardships of settling into a new life in Britain. Whilst at Manchester University studying Politics, he was involved with the equality and diversity committee, the student forum and was one of the student governors representing over 1600 students. Gulwali is also involved with numerous other organisations involved in youth representation and participation and in 2012 he was selected to carry the Olympic Torch. He has campaigned for many social-justice issues and continues to make a positive difference in the community and has been a change-maker in society. He has appeared on national media, including the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 News, and has given a TEDx talk.


Forum Cinema Café, Market Pace, Hexham, NE46 1XG
Thursday 2 March, 7.15pm

Headingley Library, North Lane, Leeds, LS6 3HG
Tuesday 7 March, 7pm

Doncaster Central Lending Library, Waterdale, DN1 3JE
Tuesday 28 March, 11am

Newcastle City Library, Charles Avison Building, 33 New Bridge Street West, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 8AX
Wednesday 29 March, 5.30pm

Sunderland Museum and Winter Garden, Burdon Road, Sunderland, SR1 1PP
Thursday 30 March, 2pm

Bradford City Library, Centenary Square, Bradford, BD1 1SD
Saturday 22 April, 2pm

The Word, 45 Market Place, South Shields, NE33 1JF
Tuesday 16 May, 6pm

North Bridlington Library, Martongate, Bridlington, YO16 6YD
Wednesday 17 May

Stockton Central Library, Church Road, Stockton, TS18 1TU
Friday 19 May, 2pm

Gateshead Central Library, Prince Consort Road, Gateshead, NE8 4LN
Thursday 25 May, 7pm

Crown Street Library, Crown Street, Darlington, DL1 1ND

Wednesday 14 June, 2pm

Carlisle Library, 11 Globe Lane, Carlisle, CA3 8NX
Tuesday 4 July, 7pm

Advance booking is advisable and all events may be subject to change. See our individual event listings for further information.

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