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)


  1. Ah, man. Welling up here. Such a beautiful piece. And so utterly clever. Brian, sir….you are a top, top bloke.

      1. A colleague read your poem to some autistic young people we work with, when he read it top to bottom one of the kids kept shouting I bet Donald Trump wrote it ! Due to present events I could understand why he would think that. On reading it bottom to top he got quite emotional and said ‘nah he’s not that smart ‘ ! It is one of the most poignant piece of poetry I’ve ever read ….. Thank you x

      1. Hi Brian,

        I am using your poem with my unruly year 9s and they are really enjoying it. It gave me goose-bumps when I read it backwards. How long did it take you to make a poem that worked both forwards and backwards? I would love to tell them.

        Thank you,


      2. Unruly Year 9s! You have my sympathy.

        The actual writing of the poem didn’t take too long at all – maybe 2-3 hours. But I’d been thinking about a reversible poem for months. What eluded me was the right subject. It was whilst reading some very heated, diametrically opposed ‘conversations’ on Twitter that it occurred to me that refugeeism was precisely the right kind of topic for this approach.

      3. Let me just add this, Brain: Thank you! I am reading you from Nigeria. And, how we could see the world differently, if we choose to! You choose seamless! #KatorHule

  2. Always looking for new ways to challenge my pupils and to make them think more deeply. This certainly achieves both of these goals, no matter which way you look at it.

  3. Brian, this poem (Refugees) is spreading like wildfire on Facebook, particularly among people like me who aren’t that into poetry but have been following the refugee issue closely. Most shared thing I’ve ever posted. UNHCR’s head of communications, Melissa Fleming, is among your fans. Thank you for such amazing work!

  4. Today I was asked to share a favourite poem in my languages class at Uni. My tutor and fellow classmates were in awe of the depth of the poem and the brilliance of the method. Thank you for writing such an important and impressive poem.

  5. This is a beautiful poem very skilfully written.

    We have decided to use it for discussion in the classroom teaching Citizenship here in Bermuda.

    Thank you for sharing.

  6. Hi Brian
    I am an educational writer concerned with social justice issues and would like to use this poem as a way to help young people engage with and explore the refugee situation around this year’s Refugee Week which has ‘Welcome’ as its theme. The poem would be used to encourage young people to reflect on stigma and negative stereotypes and to undertake creative writing to formulate a message of welcome for refugees and asylum seekers arriving in the UK. I am working with my own organisation Lifeworlds Learning and with the Humanitarian Education team at British Red Cross to make these materials freely available to schools and educators. Your poem would be part of a wide unit of activities and stimuli.

    I can not see any copyright or permissions information on this page so I am hoping that in writing to you here you might be willing to respond and allow the above sharing and use of your very powerful poem. We would link educators directly to this page as part of the resources.

    Many thanks for your work and for your consideration of this matter.

    1. Hi Rob, thanks for getting in touch. Given the very worthy cause and work going on across your organization and others, then please do feel free to share this poem as part of these materials.

      1. Hi Brian

        Many thanks for your consideration and generosity in this matter. Would you like to see a link to the final resources that it is used with? If so I can send you that when they are published later this month.

        Best wishes

  7. Dear Brian

    Please may I request the use of your poem in a powerpoint slide to be played during the intermission of our event during Refugee Week? The slide show will contain images of the crisis Syrian refugees are facing as well as current media about the people displaced since the civil war.

    This is the show.

    There is more information about it on our Facebook page about our Festival here:

    We wanted powerful but modern ways to interact with the audience. We are a group called Friends of Refugees. We are based in Bedford. This is our website:

    You are welcome to join us.
    Kindest regards
    Hazera Forth

  8. Dear Brian, I am a teacher working in Victoria and am currently in the process of authoring a unit of learning for the Reading Australia project, about Libby Gleeson’s novel “Mahtab’s Story”. I would like to use your poem “Refugees” as a learning resource in that unit. I can either use it directly in the unit or link back to your page, depending on your preference. I would be most appreciative if you will agree to this.
    Kind regards,

    1. Dear Nirvana, thanks so much for getting in touch. I’d be very happy for you to use it. If you could link out to the page that would work best from my perspective. best wishes, Brian

  9. Dear Brian,

    Please can I use your poem as the basis for a drama lesson links to the theme ‘outsiders’ ?

    Kind regards

  10. Hi Brian,

    I am currently putting together an art installation down in Somerset this summer all about life as a refugee camp on behalf of the human rights charity that I work for. I’d love to use different form of art including poetry, would I be able to use this as part of the space, the idea is to challenge people’s perception of what a refugee is so this would be absolutely perfect – all credit given to you obviously.

    Many thanks,


    1. Hi Lisa, I’d be flattered for you to use this poem as part of that. Any context in which it can help raise awareness and change perceptions is a good thing. Do please go ahead. best wishes, Brian

  11. Hi, Brian.

    My name is Montserrat Aloy and I have translated your poem into Catalan. I am a poet and belong to the Catalan Writers’ Association.I would like to ask for permission to publish the translation to make people aware of what a refugee is, so this would be absolutely perfect – all credit given to you obviously. I have a blog, and my account in FB and twitter is through mya full name (FB) and @cantireta in Twitter.

    I have already read the translated version in public in Catalan. It was awesome how the people’s faces changed when I read it from bottom to top!!

    Thanks so much for your great poem.

    Kind regards from Catalonia,

    Montserrat Aloy

    PS. For some unknown reasons I cannot see this comment published. Excuse me if you have received it 3 times already. I’m going nuts… 😀

    1. Thanks, Montserrat. Sorry about the delay in responding – I’m on holiday at the moment. I’d be honoured to see this poem in Catalan – whatever can help to raise awareness. So, yes, please do go ahead.

  12. Just saw a clip about you at the BBC’s website, and it referenced this poem. I read it and was left speechless by its unpretentious but impacting language and form. So, I’ll simply say, all the best to you, Brian.

  13. Hello Brian: I saw your “Refugees” poem at the art installation in Somerset, mentioned earlier – and found it profoundly moving. I should like to see it used in our church magazine – including of course a credit to yourself and a link to your website. But I couldn’t find an e-mail address for you, to send you more details. Would it be OK to publish, please?

  14. Hi Brian – I would also like to use your poem “Refugees” in our church newsletter – fall edition. I will provide credit with a link to this website. Would it be okay to publish?

      1. Dear Brian,
        I too would like to include your poem in our Church magazine. I am sure our people will find it amazing as I did. We have refugees coming to our church.
        David Price

      2. Hi – I am also seeking permission to reprint Refugees in our church newsletter, with attribution and your website url. Is this acceptable? thank you in advance

  15. Hi Brian,

    (Apologies if I’ve posted this twice) Really fantastic work, I always look out for your tweets!

    I am currently writing my dissertation in the form of a translation commentary. I am translating a French work of fiction that does not portray refugees in a particularly positive light (slight understatement), so my aim is to do so in a way that encourages tolerance and a broader understanding of the plight of refugees, by linking it to the ongoing refugee crisis in Europe.

    Your poem would fit perfectly in my ‘Translator’s Preface’ section, would I please be able to include it with credit and a link?

    Many thanks,


  16. Hi Brian,

    I volunteer for Wakefield City of Sanctuary, and came across your poem in a Quakers magazine in York recently.
    I’d like to put it on the Wakefield City of Sanctuary web page, and Facebook page of that is OK with you, or maybe link directly to the poem on your site?

    Thanks for this poem, which really makes one think twice about attitudes to the refugee crisis, and what our response should be.

  17. Hi Brian, I wonder whether I might include your poem ‘Refugees’ in the St Margaret’s, Westminster Abbey Quarterly Newsletter, April 2017 issue? Full credits and a link will be given. The Newsletter is distributed electronically and in hard copy free to neighbouring institutions/people in Parliament Square as well as people at St Margaret’s and Westminster Abbey.
    Best wishes,

  18. Hi Brian
    I’m hoping you might agree to letting me use ‘Refugees’ in my Reflection for the Week for the 5 Churches (in West Yorkshire) in which I am a Minister. My colleagues and I use this weekly reflection for a variety of functions…
    This year I’m hoping to increase it’s use as a way of raising issues about matters of social justice and the need for tolerance and understanding. The reflections are made available electronically, on paper and displayed on tables during weekly coffee mornings lunches etc.
    I think this is a great piece of writing for which will you will be given full credit.
    You have a wonderful gift and ability to provoke thought in a creative way. Thank you for sharing it!
    Janine Atkinson (Revd)

  19. Hello Brian,
    My name is Núria Cuadrat. I’m from Girona (Catalonia, Spain) and I work in a Peace Center (the CeDRe: ). We are actually running a school campaign called “Periodistes per la pau”. During this campaign the children (about 4.100) play as peace journalists making tv news, radio podcasts and the older pupils are working in a 16pages Peace newspaper.
    Is because of the “Peace Newspaper” that will be published on 32th of January, I contact you. It will be possible to use your “refugees poem” with its Catalan translation on it? We want to publish the poem on page 3 or 12 where children have made news about this topic. There will be _of course_ your name and blog direction.

    Thank you, in advance for your answer.
    And have a good weekend,

    1. Hi, Nuria. I’m Montserrat Aloy, the translator of this poem into Catalan. You can find it in my FB account under the same name, Montserrat Aloy or in my blog,

      Please mention authorship and translator

      Thanks so much.


      Montserrat Aloy

  20. Hello Brian and Montserrat!
    Thank you for everything! Of course there’ll be your names on it!

    Best wishes, Núria.

  21. This is a very powerful poem. I edit our church magazine, and I would really like to use to make people think in more depth about refugees and attitudes to them. Would this be possible?

      1. Brian, I would like to print Refugees in our parish newsletter too, in a parish of Melbourne, Australia – where the poor treatment of refugees is urgently under scrutiny.

  22. Hello Brian. What a powerful and clever poem! Thank you for sharing it.

    One of the ladies at church gave me a copy and asked if we could use it in our church magazine. Would that be okay? (Southwick Methodist Church, West Sussex, UK)

  23. Dear Brian,
    On June 18th I’m organising a ‘Great Get Together’ party in Portobello. Maybe you’ve heard about these events – they’re in honour of Jo Cox.
    Two things:
    First, I think this poem is quite astonishing and I’d like it writ up large and stuck on a wall for all to read at the event (with your name at the bottom, obviously). Would that be OK?
    Second, if you would like to come along, it is a Great Get Together and it would be wonderful to see you there.
    John Lowery
    P.S. I’m about to leave a comment on Life: A Record.

    1. Dear John,
      Thanks very much for getting in touch. It would be an honour to have ‘Refugees’ on show at this. Please feel free to do with it whatever you feel appropriate. I’d love to be part of it – but I’m afraid I’m not generally one for public appearances so I shall have to decline politely.

      Hope it all goes really well.


  24. Dear Brian,
    On what date was this poem written, I need to know for a school assignment of a poem analysis and needs the information for cultural context.


  25. Hi Brian – We’d like to reproduce this poem in a Quaker magazine. Who do we contact re publishing rights etc? – many thanks!

    1. Hi Tom, you can have my permission to reproduce this for free. I’m always keen for its message to reach as many people as possible.
      Best wishes,

  26. Hi Brian. I’m an English teacher in Barcelona (Spain) in an school which works for projects. This year, the others teachers have worked a project about “the refugees” in Spanish and Catalan. I’ve worked your poem and I’ve recorded a video with my students talking the poem in English and subtitled in Catalan. I’d like to ask you if I’ve your permisssion to use your letter of the poem. Can I upload the video to the school blog? I can send you the link the video. It is an educative project.

    Thank you!

  27. I was blown away by your Refugees poem: how on earth did you manage to work all that out so that each way followed so well? You must have spent ages on that surely? Ever since I read it (In Resurgence) I’ve been showing it to lots of friends – who are all equally amazed. We’re about to do a festival with our 8 Syrian refugee families in this small Scottish town & reckon it’d be ideal to display (credited to you) alongside their craft work. I’m glad you agree it should be read by everybody that would be moved by it. Catriona

  28. Dear Brian
    I loved the message from your poem and would like to put it in my newsletter (primary school) this week for parents to read as we approach Refugee Week. Would that be OK?

  29. This should be read by everyone! I would like to print your poem in our church magazine. Please do I have your permission? Jeanette

  30. Dear Brian
    I love your poem, and like so many others, I’d like to print it in our parish magazine to introduce it and you to a wider audience, of course acknowledging you and giving a link to your website. Could I please have your permission? Regards Sara

  31. I just was given your poem “Refugees”. I am a Sister of St. Joseph of Peace living in New Jersey and occasionally do postings to our website. Would you give us permission to use your poem on it? thanks

  32. Brian—Our October 14th gathering of United Methodist Women is featuring a speaker on Refugees and would like to use your poem with everybody reading down—and then up. Can we print it in the program? Do you want a copyright on it and if so, what should it say? We can certainly give your website. It is an amazing poem!—Ann

  33. Hi Brian,
    Love your reverse poem on refugees! I will be giving a keynote address on poetry therapy and social justice for the National Association for Poetry Therapy ( April. I would like your permission to use the poem in my address. I serve as the editor of the Journal of Poetry Therapy (now entering its 31st year of publication) and would welcome your unpublished work for consideration in JPT. Take care, Nick

    1. Hi Nicholas,
      Thanks very much for getting in touch. By all means fee free to use it in your address. I will go and check out your journal!
      with best wishes,

      1. Dear Brian,
        Thank you so much for allowing me to use your poem “Refugees” in my keynote address for the National Association for Poetry Therapy conference last week. The poem was very well received by the conference participants!! I made copies for the participants with full acknowledgment. If you would like to see the video–scroll to the approximate 27 minute mark.
        I plan to revise the keynote for an article in the Journal of Poetry Therapy. With your permission, I would like to include it. Take care,

      2. Hi Brian,
        I appreciate your giving me permission to use Refugees in the past for a keynote address and related journal article. I am now writing the 3rd edition of my book on poetry therapy(Routledge) and am again asking for permission to reprint Refugees (with full acknowledgement). Take care, Nick

      3. Hi Nick, I thought I’d already given you permission for that. Yes, that would be fine. Thanks very much and good luck with the new edition. Brian

      4. Thanks, Brian! You probably did but age might be taking a toll on my memory 🙂 Your work continues to amaze! Be well, my friend

  34. Dear Brian
    The refugee issue has dropped down the political agenda somewhat, unless you count the current Rohingya issue – which many people have already forgotten.

    I came across your wonderful verses reading another Methodist church magazine. I can see that you have been very generous in allowing people to use it and wondered if i could do the same by sharing it in my blog, on Facebook or in our local church magazine.

    I will of course credit you & put the link to your website.

    Many thanks


  35. Hi, I have an assignment for school where we have to create a poetry anthology with three published poems and two of our own. Does this poem have a publish date? I would really like to use this for my assignment.

    1. Hi Hailey, thanks for getting in touch. Yes, it was published in my collection You Took the Last Bus Home, which published by Unbound in October 2016 (UK) and March 2017 (US). Good luck with the assignment! Brian

  36. Brian Bilston; a man of letters =9 b,r,i,a,n,l,s,t,o. Bab! It’s not a stab at it or is it airs. It’s not a boast or a rant. No; not at all. It is as it is. It’s an orator at it. It’s a boon. It’s art.It’s a brilliant instant initiation into notion transition rotation to boot.So, a toast to Brian Bilston; a titan, a star. ….Bostin’……. You’re planting seeds mate! In the Spirit of the Lordly Ones, Blessings from Lord Graham of Really Great Malvern

  37. Dear Brian. What an amazing poem. i hope it is OK with you if we use it in church tomorrow as we will be talking about refugees and how we can help them.
    kind regards

  38. I read “Refugees” in Resurgence. Brilliant! I want to pass it round to everyone I know, but few of them speak English. So my wife and I have translated it into French. (I will be delighted to send you a copy if you wish, of course.)
    Do you mind if I distribute the translation widely? Would it be OK if a newspaper wanted to publish it?

  39. Hi Brian
    A fellow parishioner has just sent me your poem wondering if I’d like to put it in the parish magazine which I edit. I certainly would (might wake one or two people up a bit!) but thought I’d better ask first. So would that be OK?

  40. Hi Brian.
    We would like to use your poem as part of an art exhibit called “Trees @ the Meteor” this Christmas in Hamilton, New Zealand. As part of the exhibit we are trying to convey the message that although we all come from different places and experiences, together we are stronger. We would like to project the poem using a PowerPoint slideshow side by side, one running forward and one running backwards. We would credit you and use a QR code to link people with the poem on your website. The audience would be around 5000 people. You can check out what we do on our website.
    May we have permission to use this wonderful poem?

    1. Thanks for getting in touch, Darise. Sorry that I am so late in replying.
      I’d be delighted for ‘Refugees’ to be used in such a way. Good luck with it all!
      best wishes,

  41. Genius. Has become my favourite poem. Reminded me of the Anais Mitchell song – Why we Build the Wall – due to the subject matter and “Wall” reference.

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