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Two Sides of Syria’s Story

Two Sides of Syria’s Story

On Saturday 6th November, we are spending the morning looking at different aspects of displacement; and we are starting in Syria. For the past decade, our newspapers and TV screens have been filled with stories of the horrific situation in that country decimated by civil war. Our two speakers will bring us first-hand experience of the situation.

BBC correspondent, Mike Thomson, talks about his book, Syria’s Secret Library: the true story of how a besieged Syrian town found hope.  (’A unique tribute to the power of books and the unquenchable human spirit’ – Michael Palin.) Not only is this a story of an extraordinary place and people, it is also a beacon of human resilience and shared human values. Joining him in this session is Khaled Wakkaa, whose experiences as a refugee are published in the anthology Human Crossings.


Mike Thomson is one of the BBC’s most distinguished and experienced foreign correspondents. During his career, he has interviewed many military and political leaders including, Margaret Thatcher, George Bush, Joseph Kabila, King Hussein, Meles Zenawi and most recently the Liberian President, George Weah.

Over the last two decades, Mike has memorably covered many of the world’s most newsworthy events, including the devastating 2010 Haiti earthquake, three US Presidential elections, the fall of Muammar Gaddafi and the death of Nelson Mandela. His agenda-setting reporting has taken him to many of the world’s biggest trouble spots. These range from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan to Somalia, Eastern DR Congo, Darfur and the FARC controlled jungles of Colombia.

Mike has also carried out world exclusive interviews with North Korean government ministers in Pyongyang, worked undercover in Zimbabwe, Libya and Sudan and carried out highly acclaimed investigations into such harrowing subjects as North Sinai’s kidnapping trade, Sex trafficking in Ukraine, death squads in Honduras and Europe’s sweatshops of Southern India.

Mike has won more than twenty major awards for his work. These include: News Journalist of the Year (Sony Radio Academy 2012); Broadcast Journalist of the Year (One World Media Awards 2008) and War Correspondent of the Year (Prix Bayeux Calvados Awards 2008-Radio) These prestigious prizes are in addition to four Amnesty International Media Awards (three of them in consecutive years), five Sony Radio Academy Awards and four Foreign Press Association Awards.


Khaled Wakkaa is a well-known local humanitarian and volunteer who arrived in Exeter as a Syrian refugee four years ago. His fascinating and heart-rending story is included in Human Crossings, offering a personal and authentic description of his experiences and a counter-narrative to the misconceptions surrounding what it means to be a refugee.