Our Story, Refugee Stories

World Refugee Day in an Age of Zero Tolerance

“Today is ‘World Refugee Day’,” I say glancing up from my phone to my husband. We are still in our pajamas this morning, bed head and all. He hands me my cup of coffee and gives a sad laugh.

I tuck my toes underneath him as he settles in next to me on the couch.  He stares ahead silently for a minute before responding simply with, “We just have to put our trust in God.”

June 20th is what the United Nations has designated as World Refugee Day. “In a world where violence forces thousands of families to flee for their lives each day, the time is now to show that the global public stands with refugees,” it reads on their website.

Funny enough, today in Turkey is also the day where all refugees in our province must report to the police station for their weekly fingerprinting. Were you aware refugees had to check-in via fingerprint every seven days? My husband’s and my week is planned around this one event. After coffee this morning, he quickly left in order to avoid the large crowds gathering at the police station.

Today is the day my mother-in-law arrived back from an out-of-town trip (planned strategically so as not to miss her fingerprinting). Before she left, it took two days and multiple trips to the police station in order for her to obtain permission to even leave the province. Did you know refugees had to get permission to leave their province? Although armed with the correct papers, she still boarded the bus with an uneasiness settling onto her shoulders.

Today especially, I am ever conscious of the weekly fingerprinting, the jumping through hoops in order to leave town, the fear of traveling outside the city in case an officer stops and demands the proof of papers and identification. Refugees who are in limbo are forced to bow to being treated almost as prisoners while they wait to move forward with their lives. 4 1/2 years my husband has had to do this. What do you think that does to someone’s self-worth and dignity?

World Refugee Day comes just over a month after one of my husband’s acquaintances tried to leave Turkey. After threats of deportation and threats over his religion, he made the dangerous decision to put his family on a boat to cross into Greece. This painful choice — that was not really a choice at all — led to the tragic death of his mother, nephews, and cousin.

“No one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land.”
-Warson Shire

World Refugee Day comes one and half months after the U.S. enacted a zero-tolerance policy at the southern border where those who are seeking asylum are being separated from their children.

It comes at a time when politicians and leaders are using the Word of God to defend unjust, disgraceful policies.

This day comes when the Pew Research Center came out with a sobering statistic: nearly 1 out of 100 people are displaced from their homes. That is 65 million people displaced worldwide.

But with this rise in refugees and asylum seekers and an increase in people fleeing their homes from unimaginable violence, comes an uptick in keyboard warriors, people who sit in front of their laptops, coldly typing things like, “do it the legal way” and “get in line like the rest of us” and “but, but, but, it’s the law.”

A Call

For those living in America or in the comforts of a safe, stable home, to those with a job, family nearby, and a place to worship openly, to those who have no idea what is it like to raise your children while bombs are exploding in your city, or what it is like to fear your government, please listen.

Stop angrily typing for a minute and look around yourselves. Or better yet, look beyond yourselves.

Our elementary school history lessons have prepared us for a time like this. If you ever wondered what you would have done during the Holocaust, during the Japanese Internment Camps, or during the Civil Rights Movement, now is your chance. Like then, are you able to see evil as evil now? Unjust as unjust? Today will you stand on the right side of history?

An Apology

To my refugee and asylum-seeking friends, to those fleeing religious persecution, gang violence, domestic abuse, and to those only wanting a safe and peaceful life, if not for you but for your children, I am sorry.

I am sorry wealthy countries are slamming their doors shut to keep out those who were not lucky enough to be born inside the walls.

I am sorry you are judged and treated like a prisoner because of the passport you hold and the shade of your skin.

I am sorry you jump through every hoop possible, dance the dance required of you, do everything possibly right, and still, you are unable to find safety.

I am sorry Americans think it is a simple and straightforward process to flee your home and family.

“No refugee chooses to be a refugee. We do not choose to upset our lives, ripping out our hearts and souls, leaving all that we knew and loved for the unknown.”
– Hoang Chi Truong

I am sorry people have used the Lord’s name to justify the horrendous things happening.

I am sorry people have placed a policy enacted by a fallen man above your inherent worth as a child of God.

We see you.

We hear you.

We cry for you.

We want you safe.

And we want you here.

Refugee Stories

Stories of Refugee Women

I was sitting at a dining room table with mismatched chairs shoved behind the couch in the cozy living room. Chicken legs were bubbling in a pan on the stove. The savory spices tickled our noses as it wafted throughout the rest of the apartment. The television in the corner was on low, providing quiet background noise to our lesson. I sat with her – Zahra. We had laughed when meeting for the first time at how similar our names were. We muddled our way through the textbook’s chapter on Socrates, summarizing each paragraph as we went. I think I was as lost as she was when it came to crafting an essay on classical philosophers. But we pushed through. We giggled a lot. Her children crawled onto my lap and wove their fingers into my hair. We complained about Minnesota winters, clicking our tongues at the falling temperatures. She talked of taking night classes at the community college and how difficult it was to balance her courses with caring for her family. She talked of home home in Somalia and now just home in America.

unicef-two-syrian-girls-laughing-696x464
Hayat (left) and Yamama are cousins who, with their families, fled Syria to live in Lebanon. (UNICEF)

Swiping her index finger across the screen of her phone, she began telling me about her family. As each new picture appeared, she described her children – three grown sons, two already living in Europe and one living with her now in Turkey. Soon a picture appeared of smiling women gathered closely together. “My church in Turkey”, she explained. “In America, in America, in America”, she said, pointing to the faces of the majority of the women.  “Do you hope to go to America too or back to Iran?”, I asked. Reaching beneath her turtleneck, she pulled out a golden cross necklace with “GOD” gilded across it and gently brushed the piece of jewelry with her fingers. “America. We cannot go back home because…” – her voice trailed off as she drew a line forcefully across her neck with her thumb – “…you know…”. With a half-hearted laugh and a shrug, she left the sentence incomplete, the unspoken violent words hanging in the air.

gettyimage2_dadaab
Somali girls study English in a school Daadab refugee camp, Kenya. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Sitting in the tent with fire-hot heat pumping out from the soba in the middle, we were motioned to sit back on the pillows placed around the tarp walls. Two women – just girls really, 22 and 24, and both married at 14 – brought in tea for us. Children tumbled through the tent opening, socks soaked from the cold December rain. One of the women, breastfeeding her newborn baby girl, told of her flight from Syria. She was 7 months pregnant, her oldest son on her hip. She walked 5 hours straight, carrying her family through checkpoints and across borders, fleeing for her and her babies’ lives, all alone. Holding her children close, she expressed concern about both of them not getting the nutrients they needed to grow because she was unable to produce enough milk. The incredible trauma she experienced stopped her body from producing the sustenance to keep her children healthy. Her son was 2 years old and still not walking.

4512-1
The United Nations refugee agency says Macedonia has begun allowing only people from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan to cross its southern border from Greece. (Giannis Papanikos/AP)

These are three stories from three different women from three different countries. These are three snapshots of moments where it became glaringly clear to me, like a punch in the stomach, that these women were, well, humans. Suddenly, the numbers and statistics and headlines crumbled before me as I looked into their faces. All three women yearned for a stable life, to provide for their family, to make sure their children were happy and healthy. They only wanted stability, safety, and certainty.

I encourage you to find your own punch-in-the-stomach realization. Look for those moments. Standing in line at Target, make a silly face at the precious babysitting in the cart in front of you. Smile at his mother as you pick up the toy that was dropped. Say “salaam alaikum” to the Somali women you see at the grocery store. I guarantee it will elicit a giggle from them – and you. Bring cookies over to the new next door neighbors and explain to them your city’s bus route. Volunteer to be an English tutor through your local resettlement agency and you’ll find yourself in a similar situation as I did, studying Socrates, laughing, and seeing the humanity in refugees.

When you find your own punch-in-the-stomach story, spread it around to anyone who will listen. Do not stop sharing it. Our obsession with safety and security in this country cannot snuff out our capability to empathize, to be merciful, to connect and feel and hurt for those who are suffering. Our government may have made the decision for us to not welcome refugees at the moment. But that should not stop us from welcoming those who live right next to us.

In Him,

Sarah

Refugee Stories

Blue Tarps, Clothes Lines, and Bare Feet: Stories of Refugees in Turkey

This is part two of a series titled “Stories of Refugees in Turkey”, dedicated to sharing the stories of refugees with hopes of giving readers a look past numbers and statistics into the dreams and lives of real people. Read part one here.

I don’t think anyone seated in the car was prepared for what we were about to see as we abruptly braked and took a right turn off the main road. As the tires crunched over the rocks, dirt, and glass, entering into the haphazard arrangement of a settlement, a flurry of children surrounded our windows. Smiles and curious eyes peered in at us.

Three hours earlier as we whizzed down the highway with an afternoon of sightseeing planned before us, out the left-hand side window was a blur of blue tarps and white trailer pods. All five of us almost simultaneously said, “hey, was that a … camp?” The last word of the question spoken low and hesitantly. We all craned our necks to the far left as the car continued down the road and the shock of blue and white grew smaller out the back window.

The First Thanksgiving, a new perspective
Days earlier, my parents and I were invited to a pre-Thanksgiving-Thanksgiving dinner with Americans, Iranians, and Iraqis. In a small home nestled in the foothills of Cappadocia, Turkey, it was a beautiful night to share with friends from three different cultures. As we got cozy around tables pushed together in the warm living room, we began to explain the story behind America’s first Thanksgiving to our Middle Eastern friends. Three different languages began to hum around the table while ladlefuls of sauce were poured over plates filled with turkey and bowls were passed around brimming with hot mashed potatoes, stuffing, and cranberry sauce.

You know it, right?  The Pilgrims fled religious persecution, after a several month long perilous journey on a boat, to the shores of America in search of a better life. They landed in modern-day Massachusetts where Plymouth Colony was founded. With a tough winter where nearly half died behind them, the Pilgrims were able to gain assistance from the native inhabitants and began their new life in the new land. In order to show gratitude for their newfound religious freedom, safety, and prosperity, and to give thanks for the help from the Native Americans, the Pilgrims held a feast to what we now call Thanksgiving.

Does any of that sound a little familiar?  “…It sounds like us”, one guest at the table said with a sad laugh.

turkey_border_wide-7f66a7f84cae07908b1ff9cb7bcd8eca28de10b2-s800-c85
Syrian Kurdish refugees who fled Kobani make do in a refugee camp in Suruc, on the Turkey-Syria border. Source: Lefteris Pitarakis/AP

Not yet on this side
I couldn’t help but feel a little bit of the irony a few days later, as we turned into the camp. As we finished our sightseeing, our car-full vowed to keep our eyes peeled for the shock of blue and white along the highway. As we approached and slowed the car, clothes clipped to lines strung out along the plastic tarp walls were the only indication from the road that there was life inside. Today was Thursday, November 24th – Thanksgiving Day in America.

“Hello?” “Merhaba?” “Ahlan?“.

“Ahlan!”, echoed an excited chorus of little voices. “They’re Arab”, our friend concluded as he shifted into park and climbed out of the driver’s seat, the group of children growing in numbers around our car. We watched silently as he walked toward the tarps. His arms stretched out and a small boy latched on to his forearm, pull-up style, and dangled off the ground, squealing with delight and legs kicking as he was carried along into the tents. “Syrians” our friend murmured to herself as we continued watching from the backseat, waiting for the signal that it was ok to visit.

I can’t tell you how much time we spent at the camp. Maybe 10 minutes, maybe half an hour. It was a blur. It was overwhelming. It was heartbreaking.

Seeing in – stepping foot in, shaking hands with those who actually live in – a refugee camp. It was something all five of us, two of whom are refugees themselves, had never experienced before.

Seeing a toddler patter about, his bare feet fully exposed to the gravel and garbage that jutted out from the ground. Seeing the mothers and fathers slumped against the trailer walls, utterly disillusioned with their long lives of war and flight and violence and uncertainty. Seeing kids erupt into fits of giggles as they tried to mimic my mom saying, “Nice to meet you” and my dad giving them high-fives, low-fives, and to-the-side fives. Seeing a bubbly little girl with an unceasing smile spread across her face, speaking animatedly in Arabic to us, even as our car began to reverse out of their semblance of a home.

These are the images that burn in the backs of my eyelids as the first snowfall came to Cappadocia this week and temperatures dropped below freezing. These are the images that flash before my eyes when I take a hot shower at my home, with water so hot my skin flaunts read splotches as I dry off. These are the images that fill my brain as I kick off my socks in the middle of the night, the robust gas heater in my house pumping out continuous warmth.

Feel this with me for a minute. Sit with me in this.

In light of the President-elect, in light of immigration issues and concerns, in light of wondering what the Church’s place is in all of this, I want you to realize that many people are not on this side of Thanksgiving yet. Over 65 million people, in fact, are not on this side yet. There are millions who are still experiencing – quite literally – the famine and death before the coming feast.

screen-shot-2016-03-16-at-11-54-45-am-750x400
View of makeshift camp near the village of Idomeni on the Greece-Macedonia border. Credit: UNHCR

A challenge for this season
So, as we begin decorating evergreen trees in our living rooms, cooking toasty meals, singing carols, stringing together garlands, and making plans to see loved ones, sit in this with me.

I don’t want to go into great descriptions of what I saw on Thanksgiving just so that we can say, “Golly gee, we sure are blessed in good ol’ America” and continue on with life as we know it. Yes, of course, it’s good to start realizing this utterly unfair dichotomy. But more than that, I want us all to step outside of ourselves this holiday season. Life is not about you. Life is not about me.

As with my last few blog posts, I challenge us all to think outside of our lives for a minute and really try to comprehend that these tired, broken men and women, and the joyful, giggly kids, not yet touched by the realities of their lives, are image-bearers of God. All 65.3 million people have hopes and dreams and fears and skills and talents. They have been woven together with inherent dignity and hold intrinsic worth to the God of the universe.

With hot button topics such as refugee resettlement and the vetting process, we must not let the humanness of refugees get buried under the (oftentimes false) statistics we read in headlines. These are real people. They deserve our time, attention, acceptance, and love.

Let’s do all that we can this season to get them on this side of the feast.

 

In Him,

Sarah

Refugee Stories

Can You Help Us?: Stories of Refugees in Turkey

This is part one of a series titled “Stories of Refugees in Turkey” dedicated to sharing the stories of refugees with hopes of giving readers a look past numbers and statistics into the dreams and lives of real people. Read part two here.

“He is asking you,” my translator quietly tells me as she places her hand on the arm of the sofa where I’m seated.

I look up from the coffee table. I had been examining papers laid out before me from the UN, precious papers that give evidence that this family has been accepted as refugees.

I had assumed the question was rhetorical but her emphasis on the last word told me otherwise.

“They are asking, ‘What can you do for us? Can you help us?’” she repeated, her soft Arab accent woven like silk around each word.

I placed the handful of worn papers back on the table, and my eyes went from her hand to her face and then to the eyes of a man sitting across from me. A 54-year-old man who had been a refugee for 14 years, seeking safety first in Syria, then back to Iraq when the Syrian war broke out, then to Lebanon, then back to Iraq, and now in Turkey, where he waits with his wife and teenage son. Their first appointment with the UN isn’t scheduled until 2019.

“Can you help us?”

The question hung in the air and suddenly everything felt heavy, like lead. I became painfully aware of the sound of the string of plastic prayer beads rolling around the palm of the man’s hand, the black and white static of the television in the corner, the picture of the Virgin Mary hanging above the sofa, and the fact that I was the only non-refugee in the room.

His wife comes through the doorway holding a tray of tiny teacups filled with black Turkish coffee. I quickly sip from the glass of water offered and accept the coffee, thankful that her entrance shifts the mood and the interview continues on without me having to provide an answer.

The story of this man and his wife and the trauma and loss they have experienced and are still experiencing is not an uncommon one. Most stories begin with a painful retelling of ISIS invading hometowns, stories of people fleeing with only the clothes on their backs and their children at their sides, just one hour – 60 minutes – before the invasion occurs. Fleeing at a moment’s notice, leaving behind homes, memories, and lives that they will never know or return to in the same way again. Each story stops here, in Turkey, where thousands of people’s lives hang in the balance, where every family is forced to hit the pause button and wait in agony for an unknown, unclear future. Working stops, school stops, money stops. The decision to freeze in place, unable to move forward and unable to move backward, is made for them.

The bones of each story, weighted with grief and torment, are the same, yet the details that fall between are unique.  Entering homes, sharing a cup (or two, or three, or four) of çay, sitting across from one another, laughing and crying with each other, and hearing their stories hardly leaves the listener unchanged. Each story I heard, I cherish with such respect. Each story that entered my ears lays heavily on my heart. Such courage was shown as each story was spoken out loud, as thoughts and feelings that have stayed locked inside for so long come tumbling out, like rain pouring down in torrents.

These stories are with me now as I lie in my warm bed. These stories will stay with me as I hop on a plane to Italy and Greece. These stories will stay with me as I freely move across the ocean, home to America for the summer.

“Can you help us?”

What do you say when a 60-year-old woman shows you to a bedroom in the corner of her apartment where her debilitatingly depressed brother lies in a bed, not showering, not eating, waiting to die?

What do you say when a family of seven all sleep in the living room of their tiny attic apartment and have gone three full years without being in school yet still have dreams of being doctors and engineers when they grow up?

What do you say when a woman shares that one day her husband just disappeared in Iraq and has not been seen or heard from since 2014?

What do you say when a Yazidi family with five beautiful, graceful girls have no food in their cupboards, who have crossed into Turkey on foot, escaping sex traffickers, whose father has crossed into Europe on a boat and they live in fear that their neighbors will find out who they really are?

What do you say when a man shoves a photograph of his dead brother in front of your face, his body filled with bullet holes placed there by ISIS?

What do you say when everyone in the room turns to you and asks, “can you help us?”

What do you say when you are a white girl from Midwest America who has the entire world at your fingertips, can go anywhere, be anything, yet cannot help these families?

Sometimes it is okay to be silent. There are times when words ruin the moment, a contrived response minimizing what was just shared. Sometimes there are moments that call for sitting in uncomfortable, awkward stillness, and to just grab the shaking hand across the table and pray.

That uncomfortableness, that awkwardness, that frustration of wanting to say something, to do something, anything to help – that’s what we all should be feeling when we hear stories, numbers, and statistics of these hurting souls on the news. We need to be uncomfortable. We need to fidget in our chairs. We need to feel the injustice rise up in our chests, like lava threatening to erupt. We need to do something, anything to help.

“Can you help us?”

I’m still figuring out how to answer that question. But I can listen. I can pray. I can carry these stories in my heart and share them with you. You can listen to these stories and you can pray. We can keep these stories moving and alive. We can watch the news and see hearts and souls and real human beings.

“It’s a kind of healing, to speak the hard things”, my translator told me after I assured her she only had to share with me what she wanted to share. We had just met and sat at a çay bahçe, a Turkish tea garden, discussing what tomorrow’s interviews would be like. “It’s difficult. But I think we all want our stories heard”.

Refugee Stories

Love and Fear Cannot Coexist

It’s during the hustle and bustle of traveling as we leave our hotel in Istanbul and pile into the airport shuttle, coffee in hand and eyes double checking the time on our wrists. It’s in the midst of a frenzied realization that one of our bags is forgotten on the steps outside the hotel, becoming smaller and smaller out of the back window of the shuttle. It happens after an emphatic and relieved “çok sağol! çok sağol!” to our driver as we settle back into our seats, recounting our bags, sighing to each other, and saying “that was close!” while we look over our tickets and itinerary. It’s on a busy road leading our van to the airport. It’s during heavy traffic – bottle necking – something inevitable to a city of this size. It’s on a congested road, with concrete buildings towering a mile high on our right and the blue-green sea sparkling on our left.

A quiet tapping on our window.

Waking us from the haze of our own streams of consciousness, of our thinking and planning for the hours of traveling to come, we lazily turn our attention towards the sound.

For a minute we’re blinded by the afternoon sun reflecting off the churning waters of the Bosphorus. Squinting our eyes we see a man peering into our window, clutching a toddler, two small legs wrapped tightly around his waist. His wife standing next to him, each hand grasping the tiny hands of her children at both her sides. Ten dark eyes stare back at our six light blue.

“Syrians. They want money,” our driver tersely explains through puffs of his cigarette. His words off-handedly tossed towards the back of the van as an answer to a question we did not ask.

…Money. Oh! They want money. Do you have any cash on you? Where’s my wallet? Wait, everything’s packed away in the trunk. Money. They need money. Will money even help? How far will a couple crumpled lira get them? Are you sure we don’t have anything in our pockets? Check again.

And in a moment, much like the nearly forgotten suitcase, the family is left behind in the rear window as the van lurches forward and traffic continues on. Five solemn faces. Five beating hearts. Five humans with five incredible, unique, heart-breaking stories to tell. Five souls that were purposefully formed by and made in the image of God. Five souls whose realities now only know fleeing and fear.

Friends, my heart is really heavy tonight.

I spent a good chunk of my day off from teaching today reading different articles and blogs and watching segments from news channels about everything that’s been happening in the world this past week. The comment sections and the anti-this and anti-that pictures that have been shared on Facebook have left me feeling sadder and sadder each time I scroll down.

Life in America can be so disconnected and easy and comfortable. And so can my little life in Turkey. It’s so easy to sip our coffee as we angrily type our emotion-fueled opinions online about “them” in our warm and safe homes, in a country where our government is for us and protects us. It’s so easy to make incredibly over-simplified, blanket statements about a group of people that we’ve never met or even cared to see the faces of. It’s so easy to dehumanize people when we’re thousands and thousands of miles away in the comforts of our homes.

Lord, have mercy on us.

Lord, breathe your spirit over us.

Lord, build your kingdom right here.

Show us where Jesus is in all of this.

Friends, please, please, please know that life is bigger than America and red cups with no snowflakes and blog posts and social media and you and me.

There are many things I can say here and many Bible verses I can rattle off. But here’s what I want to do: I want you to come here. Pull up a chair next to me. Stop wringing your hands and shaking your fist. Be still and listen – really listen for a minute.

What if Jesus really meant all that stuff? Like, really, really, for real, meant it?

…Loving our enemies.

…Clothing the naked.

…Caring for the sick.

…Welcoming the stranger.

If we take Jesus’ words at face value, then woah, those are some intense commands. Loving enemies? Welcoming strangers? Nope. No way. That’s risky. That’s complicated. That’s messy. That’s hard. That’s impossible.

Let me let you in on a not-so-secret secret: Jesus really did mean all that stuff.

Loving someone is risky. It’s uncomfortable. It’s audacious. But guess what? Perfect love casts out fear.

Did you hear that? Perfect love casts out fear.

Friends, it is my cry that your hearts – my heart – do not become clouded with fear and hate and closed doors and turned backs – no! Fight against it, please.

Perfect love casts out fear.

These are real people, with real stories, real hurts, real souls.

It’s families who have fled to Turkey, only to be denied work visas, living off of quickly disappearing savings, waiting in limbo for their next visa appointment, which isn’t until 2025. It’s a man who has fled here with his family, without work and without money, who’d rather make the dangerous trek back to die in his war-torn homeland than die in a foreign land. It’s a woman with a Master’s in chemistry, with two smart sons, now finding herself working illegally at a hair salon, hours and hours a day on her feet, and getting paid next to nothing. It’s an entire generation of children who will go uneducated because of regulations and laws and language barriers and school fees that are blocking them from learning.

It’s easy to distance ourselves and only see refugees as statistics on the news and angry words on our screen. But, it gets a little  a lot harder when we see ten eyes staring right into our own. It’s get harder when five somber faces are etched into our brains each night we curl up in our warm beds. It gets harder when we realize we’re blessed with a home, a safe place to go, a stable government, a place to belong. It gets harder when we can’t even begin to imagine with it’s like to be a refugee.

These are real people, with real stories, real hurts, real souls.

And when we realize this and let ourselves see this, our hearts make no room for fear. Terrorism breeds on fear, but perfect love is its kryptonite.

I don’t know what the ultimate answer is. I am grounded enough to know that what’s happening in the world right now is really, really complicated. Yes, as a country, we need to be wise. But, I can say that the answer is not wringing hands and shaking fists. It’s not slamming the doors closed one state at a time because fear has overwhelmed us. It’s not generalized assertions about a group of people kept at arm’s length and neatly in the confines of numbers and statistics.

The ocean between us is wide and vast, I know that. But there is room at the table for all of us. Friends, let’s welcome the fleeing, fearful, homeless families to the table. Come. Come. Come. There’s room for you here.

no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well

your neighbors running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.

no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
your neck
and even then you carried the anthem under
your breath
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilets
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.

you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
under trains
beneath carriages
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten
pitied

no one chooses refugee camps
or strip searches where your
body is left aching
or prison,
because prison is safer
than a city of fire
and one prison guard
in the night
is better than a truckload
of men who look like your father
no one could take it
no one could stomach it
no one skin would be tough enough

the
go home blacks
refugees
dirty immigrants
asylum seekers
sucking our country dry
niggers with their hands out
they smell strange
savage
messed up their country and now they want
to mess ours up
how do the words
the dirty looks
roll off your backs
maybe because the blow is softer
than a limb torn off

or the words are more tender
than fourteen men between
your legs
or the insults are easier
to swallow
than rubble
than bone
than your child body
in pieces.

i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
drown
save
be hunger
beg
forget pride
your survival is more important

no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
saying-
leave,
run away from me now
i dont know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here

“Home” by Warsan Shire

Father, have mercy on us. Help us to love fearlessly. Show us that there is room. Show us Jesus in all of this. Come, Lord.