Refugees

They have no need of our help
So do not tell me
These haggard faces could belong to you or me
Should life have dealt a different hand
We need to see them for who they really are
Chancers and scroungers
Layabouts and loungers
With bombs up their sleeves
Cut-throats and thieves
They are not
Welcome here
We should make them
Go back to where they came from
They cannot
Share our food
Share our homes
Share our countries
Instead let us
Build a wall to keep them out
It is not okay to say
These are people just like us
A place should only belong to those who are born there
Do not be so stupid to think that
The world can be looked at another way

(now read from bottom to top)

281 comments

  1. hello, I am a year 8 writing a short essay on your poem. Is there any explanation for the ongoing stanza in the poem? thanks!

    1. Hi Tiffany, do you mean why is it all in one stanza? If so, that’s because I wanted the flow to be as continuous as possible. I think if I’d have divided into stanzas, the rhythm and the cumulative nature of the poem might not be as effective. Hope this helps! Brian

  2. Hi Brian, your refugees poem is very powerful. I would love to be able to include it in a book on climate change which I am writing with my parents, if you give permission. What is the copyright position please? Would you allow us to publish it please, obviously giving your name as the poet, and listing your website (or citing a book if you have already published it)? We think this would help challenge people to do more for refugees, including climate refugees. Many thanks, Jamie Hawker (age 13)

    1. Thanks very much for this, Jamie. I’d be delighted for you to use the poem in this context. If you just give my name, followed by the book in which it was first published that should do it: ie Brian Bilston, from ‘You Took the Last Bus Home’.
      Thanks again and good luck with it all!

      1. Thanks very much, that’s brilliant! We will certainly list the book details. We are also enjoying your lockdown poems.

  3. My daughter and I are planning an exhibition in church later this year about our lock down experiences, involving others from the village. She has been responsible as a doctor for health issues among the unaccompanied minors arriving at Kent ports and I am involved in support for the Refugee council’s allocation of accommodation for refugees after government withdrawal with lifting of lock down. may we use your poem – which we think is brilliant!! – on our stand? We would of course add acknowledgements as you wish.

  4. Hi Brian,
    First of all i would like to say i loved your poem The Refugees it must of been hard work getting it to work from the bottom upwards as well or did it just fall into place for you? Secondly can we publish the poem in our Church and Village Magazine please, this would be a joy to many who read it, take care.
    All the best
    Carl

  5. Hello Brian, I wonder if we could please use this poem in the monthly newsletter of Marchmont St Giles’ Parish Church, Edinburgh, giving credit to you along with your website, FB and Twitter details? Best wishes, Sue (Editor)

  6. Dear Brian,

    Thank you for creating such a powerful poem, as relevant today, as it was in 2016.

    We are a London based Global Learning organisation and would like to create activities for teachers, inspired by your poem. We will be translating it into Slovak and Czech as well, as it is for a transnational project.

    You can find more info at http://www.globallearninglondon.org/current-projects/sankofa/

    Could you please let us know if it would be OK to print your poem? Happy to share the final resource of course.

  7. Hi Brian. Your poem is so powerful and thought provoking. I am a year 6 teacher in Wales and we plan on using this in our literacy lessons this week as we are focussing on refugees. We can’t wait to use it and to see the children’s reactions. Thank you!

      1. Dear Brian,
        Love your poem, “Refugees” and the reverse technique! I am writing to request permission to use this poem (with full acknowledgment) in the 3rd edition of my book, “Poetry Therapy: Theory and Practice.”

        Wishing you and your loved ones safe and well during these troubled times.

        Take care,
        Nick

        Nicholas F. Mazza, Ph.D.

        Dean and Patricia V. Vance Professor Emeritus

        College of Social Work, Florida State University

        Editor, Journal of Poetry Therapy (https://www.tandfonline.com/loi/tjpt20 )

        FL Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Psychologist, M&F Therapist
        nfmazza@fsu.edu

        ( https://www.routledge.com/Poetry-Therapy-Theory-and-Practice-2nd-Edition/Mazza/p/book/9781138812574 )

        (https://www.routledge.com/Expressive-Therapies/Mazza/p/book/9781138848092 )

    1. Hi Brittany, thanks for your message. I wrote it in this way to illustrate the two very different responses which I was seeing on social media to the refugee crisis. I wanted to find a way to reflect this and find a way to turn negative feelings into positive ones. Hope that helps! Brian

  8. Hi Brian – Thank you – it’s an excellent poem – very powerful. I used it in Geography GCSE lessons last week to support students’ learning about migration. I animated the words both ways in a PowerPoint, to reveal each line, first as written followed by a discussion, then the other way. Some colleagues in other schools have asked if they could use this resource. I wanted to check with you first (can send a copy).

    1. Hi, thanks for getting in touch. Sounds like a terrific way to present the poem – and yes, that would be absolutely fine for you to share the poem in that way. All the best, Brian

  9. Hi Disha here …wonderful poem written with such intelligence…greatly impressed . You have done a great job

  10. hello, i am a gcse drama student and i am using your poem as a stimulus for my performance (it’s really good btw!). i have a question: what period was the poem set or is it modern day?

    1. Hi Isabelle, it is modern day. It was written about five years ago in response to news reports of refugees drowning in the Mediterranean. Good luck with your performance!

  11. Hi Brian, this poem is so beautiful – I had goose bumps reading it. I work for ORAM, a refugee organization supporting LGBTIQ asylum seekers and refugees globally. We would love to read your poem at our virtual end of year event celebrating refugees everywhere and raising critical money for LGBTIQ refugee livelihood projects in Kenya.

    Please could we request your permission to read the poem during the show?

    Thanks,

    Bella

  12. Hello, I am writing an essay on your sensational poem (for my class) which offers many insights into the lives of the refugees. I had a few questions, what was the main message you wanted to portray to the readers, were there any specific poetic devices you wanted to incorporate in your poem?
    Thank You! It is a beautiful poem with many inspiring hidden messages!
    Charlotte( 11 yrs old)

    1. Hello Charlotte, thank you for your kind words and fantastic questions. In terms of a main message, it was about trying to turn words of hate and negativity into good. I wanted to show the different viewpoints which I’d encountered on social media, and show how perspectives can be flipped. My own perspective lies in reading from bottom to top, of course. In terms of poetic devices, the main one was the forwards / backwards structure of the poem. What that helps to do is to create the element of surprise ie to take the reader in one direction and to form an impression of the kind of person who would write that, only for their preconceptions to be turned (almost literally) on their head. Hope this helps – and the best of luck with your essay! Brian

  13. Your poems should be prescribed reading in all schools. They are bloody brilliant but living in darkest Lincolnshire you have passed under the radar until now. The humanity of your work shows up precisely the inhumanity of this Government. All kudos to you.

  14. Hello Brian, Just brilliant, I have been shouting out loud at my computer screen! I have just discovered this poem and your website through the OU “How to Read a Poem” course – one of the other students left the link in comments. I volunteer for a charity called Phone Credit for Refugees (does what it says on the tin) and I wondered if I could quote the poem on one of our weekly fundraising posts (we call it the Friday Conga). I would of course say it was by you and if you wanted put a link on the post to your website. But I completely understand if that is not ok as well. I wouldn’t use it without your permission.

    1. Thanks for your kind words. Diane, and for all the great work you and your charity is doing. I would consider it an honour for you to use my poem in this way. Thanks again!

      1. Thank you so much Brian, I really appreciate it; I will save it up for the right moment, probably when something negative about refugees has been in the headlines! So probably quite soon 😦

  15. Hi Brain! Patrick here, a year 11 student from Australia. I chose your book ‘Refugees’ illustrated by Jose Sanabria for my English analysis. My first assignment is to reflect on your book in a book review, furthermore later on an oral presentation and finally create my own adolescent picture book. I am quite inspired by your style and you’ve shown me some insight in how picture books can be used to cover political issues, society etc. If you would mind answering a few questions that would be of great help to me! 1: Is there a particular symbolic link meant in the style of newspaper ‘cut-and-paste’ text represented on the front cover (as the title) and throughout the pages of the books. 2: Is the book set in real life/fantasy? – The characters in the book resemble as humans although some features show that the story is more focused on telling a message instead of creating realism. 3. Why did you decide to structure the sentences with what seems like line breaks instead of using more prose sentences?
    I look forward to hearing from you! Thankyou,
    Patrick.

    1. Hi Patrick,

      Thanks very much for getting in touch – and for choosing my book for your English analysis. Here’s my attempt to answer your questions:

      I didn’t create the artwork myself for the book. The publisher commissioned the Latin American artist Jose Sanabria to do that – and I loved what he came up with it. So I don’t know particularly if there is a symbolic link with the use of newspaper ‘cut-and-paste’ text – it maybe just the artist’s collage style but it’s certainly brings to mind newspaper coverage of the refugee crisis (both sympathetic and otherwise) and the headlines it has made in recent years
      The poem was written before any illustrations were applied to it – and that was based very definitely on real world events. I think the artist’s style is that of ‘magical realism’ – particularly popular in the art and literature of South America – in that it combines elements of both real life and fantasy, and juxtaposes realism with absurdity.
      The structure of the poem is based primarily on what can be made to work when the lines get read in reverse order. It would be hard to change the story if each line was a standalone sentence in its own right. By splitting sentences using line breaks, they were more easily restructured into new and different sentences, and allowed the overall meaning of the poem to change when read from bottom to top.

      The best of luck with your assignment.

      Best wishes,
      Brian

      1. Thankyou very much Brian that was exactly what i needed to hear just to reassure my interpretation. Best of luck in the future and i will certainly be reading more of your poems into the future, they’re lovely.

        Sincerely,
        Patrick

  16. This is such a brilliant poem, thank you.

    I’m volunteering for a charity called Conversation over Borders which connects volunteer tutors with asylum seekers and refugees for one-on-one English conversation classes online. One of our aims is to deconstruct the dominant negative media narrative that surrounds issues of migration. Instead of fear or racism, we want to inspire empathy and solidarity.

    I wondered if I could post your poem on our Instagram account, giving credit to you and tagging you?

    Thank you! Juliette

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