What it means to be a refugee? Imagine…

I was stewarding the People not Borders exhibition one evening this week and nobody came. I read Anne Tyler with great pleasure for an hour or more and then, feeling a little jaded by the Christmas pop and schmaltz playing in the café, I longed for my favourite, very sad carol, In the Bleak Midwinter. Soon I found myself rewriting the lyrics with refugees in mind.


 In the bleak mid-winter
They’re sleeping on the streets,
With shoes that we discarded
Hard around their feet.
Snow has fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
On abandoned people
With nowhere safe to go.


 In the bleak mid-winter
Bombs break homes apart,
War ensures cold comfort,
Seals unfeeling hearts.
In the bleak mid-winter
The camps are sharp with snow.
Behind the wire we trap them
In worlds we’ll never know.

 In summer and in winter
Yemen’s children die.
While our dealers party
Fire devours their sky.
Bombs are falling, cities burn,
Horror without end.
But war is good for business
So Saudi is our friend.


In the fiery summer
Living lakes run dry.
Fields lie cracked and barren,
Swollen children cry.
Earth is hotter, year on year,
Year on year.
Far away the hungry
Flee their homes in fear.


 What then can we give them,
Rich as we are?
Coats, hats, our commitment
To following the star
The one that leads to peace on earth,

Peace across the earth,
The gift of climate justice,
Humanity’s rebirth.



It wasn’t the first time that our touring exhibition, which explores creatively what it means to be a refugee, has inspired me. A few weeks ago I was looking at the remarkable photographs of young Syrian, Abdulazez Dukhan, when one of them generated a poem.




Now entries are coming in for the People not Borders competition asking adults and secondary school students, in a poem, short story or artwork, to do the the same: explore creatively what it means to be a refugee. The poetry judge will be Caroline Smith, who works with asylum seekers in London and whose collection, The Immigration Handbook, was shortlisted in 2016 for the Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry. Our special guest will be ex-refugee and tireless campaigner, Lord Dubs, who now works with Safe Passage – an organisation we at People not Borders are happy to support by paying for welcome rucksacks for the next twenty unaccompanied minors to arrive in the UK, and by donating a copy of our fundraising picture book, I am me, for each young person. The theme of the book? Exploring creatively what it means to be a young refugee arriving in the UK from a war zone.



I believe in imagination, which powers empathy. When I visited a writers’ group hoping to enter the competition, I saw on their faces something beyond compassion as they entered imaginatively into an experience beyond theirs. That’s what makes our picture book and our exhibition “moving” “powerful” and “inspiring” – not facts, but human connection through creativity. #WeAreOne.


Please share…