The Naked Don’t Fear the Water by Matthieu Aikins is an astonishingly brave account of Afghan refugees' journey – Laura Waddell

In a remarkable new book, The Naked Don’t Fear the Water, a reporter travels incognito as a migrant from Afghanistan to Europe.

Afghan migrants walk along a path to reach Tatvan city in Turkey after President Joe Biden announced US troops would withdraw from Afghanistan (Picture: Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

This week I’ve been absorbed in this astonishingly brave first-hand account of the dangerous, sometimes fatal journey taken by migrants attempting fleeing warfare and persecution.

In 2015, with the threat of the Taliban advancing in Afghanistan, Omar was keen to make a life, marriage, and future away from Kabul and the sound of gunfire in the distance.

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He was accompanied by friend and war reporter Matthieu Aikins, who had lived in the area long enough to grow fluent in local dialect.

In fact, Aikins was often taken to be a local, something that aided him in his journalistic manoeuvres.

“For years now, blending in for my own safety has been a habit. In turn, passing as an Afghan had made me aware of how, as an Asian face abroad, I had to perform my own western identity if I wanted to wield its privilege.”

In the run-up to his and Omar’s departure, Aikins questions the moral rationale of posing as a migrant, referencing the 1903 Jack London bestseller The People of the Abyss in which the writer donned frayed, second-hand clothes to go undercover and get a close-up look at life in London slums.

He asks his Afghan friends whether they find what he is doing offensive. "Good for you,” they tell him. “I think some even saw it as self-improvement.”

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This earnest friendship between the two men propels Aikins forward on the dangerous journey and where the book makes its most profound commentary is on borders.

“When we tired of discussing the day’s work, Omar and I talked instead about ourselves, and of the past and future, to the drumming of distant guns. ‘What’s Canada like, bro?’ ‘It’s cold.’ ‘That’s ok,’ he said and I could picture his eyes gazing up into the dark. ‘I like the cold.’"

Together they travel across choppy seas in an inflatable dinghy, over desert by foot, ending up in migrant camps and squats and conned by smugglers.

For its dedication to documenting such desperate journeys, shining a light on conditions for migrants, The Naked Don’t Fear The Water is an incredible achievement.

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