Alem's father is Ethiopian and his mother is Eritrean, and there is a dangerous conflict raging between the two countries.
For his own safety, Alem's father brings him to England to escape the dangers at home. At first, Alem is delighted to be having a holiday with his dad, until he wakes up one morning to find his father has left him in England alone.
Although Alem is heartbroken and everything about English culture is very confusing, he tries to see the positives of living in a cold, alien environment far from his home and family.
Alem's moving story helps the reader understand the difficulties refugees face coming to England from a child's perspective, but also points out the huge advantages we all take for granted – free education, no war, a support system that tries to help and a legal system that tries to bring justice and security to refugees. It also shows how the British press constantly stirs up hatred against refugees and minorities, and how difficult that is for Alem.
There are a number of excellent refugee stories published more recently, such as The Fox Girl and the White Gazelle and The Boy at the Back of the Class, but Refugee Boy really stands the test of time, highlighting the problems children like Alem face, wherever they come from.