Safe Haven

Shankari Chandran

Safe Haven
Ultimo Press
1 May 2024

Safe Haven

Shankari Chandran

It was a beautiful evening. The wind gathered speed, lifting the frangipanis from the grove behind him, pink and yellow petals defying gravity. Beyond the trees, hidden by the foliage and rows of towering palm trees, the detention centre slept fitfully in the heavy summer heat. The palms blocked the ocean gust that now swirled around him, filling his lungs with the taste of temple flowers and salt. It reminded him of home. He took a deep breath, stepped off the escarpment and felt the red sand rush up towards him.

After arriving in Australia seeking asylum, Fina dedicates herself to aiding the refugees held in a detention centre at Port Camden, a remote island outpost. Appalled by the mistreatment of those in custody, Fina speaks out to the media about the poor conditions within the facility, as a result she is arrested, taken from her home in the small country town of Hastings and threatened with deportation.

When a security officer dies under suspicious circumstances, Lucky, a special investigator, arrives to uncover the truth. Her mystery is tied to Fina’s fate—and the secrets of the detention centre will divide the town and the nation.

Safe Haven is about displacement and seeking refuge — but ultimately it is a story about finding home — and the lengths you’ll go to find safety and love.


Set in a detention centre in Port Camden, Safe Haven focuses on the lives of refugees after their perilous journeys. As Shankari Chandran writes, they trade the prison of the home they ran away from, the wars, atrocities and violence, for another kind of prison, one sanctioned by Western policies that brand themselves as charitable. People who’ve survived the worst the world can throw at them are broken by the reality of the ‘asylum’ they’ve been granted, and it’s this reality that our main character, Serafina, has to reveal to the public.

Sister Serafina Daniels is a Tamil nun who escaped with others from the civil war in Sri Lanka through multiple ships and eventually a frail boat, losing tens of lives along the way. Near drowning, the boat is miraculously rescued by a nearby passenger vessel that hears their emergency call. Afforded asylum on the ‘Safe Haven’ visa, she works as a pastoral care worker for others in the centre, however, she’s arrested when she’s unable to keep her silence about the reality of their conditions. The arrest kickstarts her involvement in a greater conspiracy surrounding the detention centre, one that threatens her life and the comfortable reality the government and many Australians have chosen to live in.

Safe Haven is ultimately about the ugliness in our society that makes the human desire for love, safety and belonging a privilege afforded only to a few. Chandran has finetuned her skill of creating visceral characters rooted in reality; her writing style is atmospheric and immersive, incredibly plot-driven and has a strong message. Her experiences in law and social justice are evident in the skill of her research. Despite it all, the human core of the novel shines through: the kindness of the characters, the lengths they go to save each other and the futures they believe in.

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