Poets speak out for refugees: ‘No one leaves home, unless home is the mouth of a shark’

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Five young London poets who have written about displacement and identity reflect on the refugee experience

“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.” This evocative stanza from poet Warsan Shire’s Home hit a nerve online recently as the European public finally woke up to the reality of the refugee crisis. Explaining, in short verses, the unthinkable choices refugees must take, Shire writes: “no one puts their children in a boat / unless the water is safer than the land.”

The young Nairobi-born, London-raised writer first drafted another poem about the refugee experience, Conversations about home (at a deportation centre), in 2009 after spending time with a group of young refugees who had fled troubled homelands including Somalia, Eritrea, Congo and Sudan. The group gave a “warm” welcome to Shire in their makeshift home at the abandoned Somali Embassy in Rome, she explains, describing the conditions as cold and cramped. The night before she visited, a young Somali had jumped to his death off the roof. The encounter, she says, opened her eyes to the harsh reality of living as an undocumented refugee in Europe: “I wrote the poem for them, for my family and for anyone who has experienced or lived around grief and trauma in that way.”

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