Assorted Poems, Some poems

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)

344 thoughts on “Refugees

  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

  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

    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,

        Nicholas F. Mazza, Ph.D.

        Dean and Patricia V. Vance Professor Emeritus

        College of Social Work, Florida State University

        Editor, Journal of Poetry Therapy ( )

        FL Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Psychologist, M&F Therapist

        ( )

        ( )

    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. 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!

  10. 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?



  11. 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

  12. 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.

  13. 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 😦

  14. 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,

    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,

      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.


  15. 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

  16. Hello Brian,

    I teach high school ESL/ELL students and for their senior year we do a unit on Poetry. I have taught your poem now for the past handful of years and the students love it. It brings lots of emotions out for them and we can get into a great discussion. Is there anything you would like to add to this discussion so I can bring it to my students (most in the class, some on Zoom). With this being a difficult school year and political climate, I am expecting a great discussion on emotions from your poem. Thank you!

    1. Hi Julie, thanks so much for using your poem in my classes. I’m not sure I have a huge amount to add to a discussion (although I’ve commented a lot in the replies on this page as to what inspired the poem etc. If your students have any questions for me. though, do feel free to pass them on and I’ll do my best to answer them.

  17. Thank you for this wonderful and realistic poem. We are a group of French students, we read your poem online during an English lesson about immigration,and we have a few questions : do you have any authors in particular who inspired you to start writing poems?
    Have you ever met any refugees and discussed their recent situations?

    1. Thank you, Marie. That’s very kind of you. In answer to your questions:
      – authors who have inspired me: Philip Larkin, Stevie Smith, Roger McGough, Simon Armitage, Carol Ann Duffy
      – and yes, I live in Oxford in the UK and we have a number of local refugee programmes I’ve been involved with. And chat regularly to people who have come here over the years from Afghanistan and Syria, in particular, and settled into our community.

      Hope this helps,

  18. I am currently President of Methodist Women in Britain – part of the British Methodist Church. The women of the Southampton District are planning to record a video service around my theme of human trafficking and refugees in the coming weeks. We intend to focus on positive actions that churches are doing to support those caught in trafficking situations and once rescued from such experiences. We would really love to use your poem ‘Refugees’ as part of this, so I am writing to ask your permission.

    1. Hi Hilary, thanks for getting in touch and all the great work you are doing. Yes, by all means feel free to use my poem as part of your video service. It would be an honour! best wishes, Brian

      1. Thank you so much. We are very grateful.
        Thank you too for all that you are doing to make people think about issues in the ways that you do.
        All good wishes,

  19. Hello Brian. I am one of the editors of The Worthys Parish Magazine which is produced by volunteers of a church near Winchester and goes to about 500 homes in our villages. One of our readers sent me your amazing poem this week. He was really touched by it and wondered if you would mind if we shared it in our magazine, giving credit to you. Would this be possible please? With many thanks Mary

    1. Thanks for getting in touch, Mary, and for your kind words. Yes, by all means feel free to include it in your parish magazine. Best wishes, Brian

  20. This is such a good poem, thank you. I see you are generously letting people use it elsewhere. We’d like to use it in a newsletter for a charity that works to support asylum seekers and refugees. We would credit it appropriately. Is that OK? Many thanks.

  21. Hello Brian,
    Thank you for ‘Refugees’!
    I am writing to request permission to include your poem in a chapter on refugee literature in my forthcoming book (Compelling Stories for English Language Learners – Creativity, Interculturality and Critical Literacy). I will of course acknowledge your collection You Took the Last Bus Home, and also refer to the lovely 2019 picturebook of the poem illustrated by José Sanabria.
    Many thanks, Janice

  22. Hi Brian, we are studying your poem for Irish Junior Cycle and my second year students wanted to tell you how powerful they found it. Very moving 🙂

  23. Hi Brian, I find your poem very invoking. I’m a masters student at the University of Hamburg currently working on a project that challenges stereotypical narratives of migrants and the migrant protection crisis.

    I’m actually writing to you to ask for your permission to use your poem in a website exhibition that our class is working on. We have collected a few objects, and curated some of our own, but are also composing a “Further reading list” that invokes critical thinking. This poem would be my submission to the list.

    Please feel free to reply directly to my email address, so that I can also share the website exhibition with you when it is ready.

    Wishing you all the best,

  24. Hi Brian,
    I am so happy that my students here in the University have got this poem as a part of their prescribed syllabus. I am from India and it is so good to see this poem gaining all the popularity it deserves.
    Thanks for this

  25. Hello,
    I love your poem and I’m really excited to teach it to my class in the next few weeks – especially with the Ukraine Refugee crisis going on – it’s definitely something very topical at the moment. I was wondering, does your poem fit a particular ‘genre’ of poetry? Or is it a new genre you have made? Thank you!

    1. Hi Laura, thanks for your kind comments. That’s great to hear you’ll be teaching it to your class. I don’t think the poem slots into its own particular genre, although there are a few other poems out there which follow a similar structure. I can’t take the credit for inventing this form. I was inspired by a poem called ‘Lost Generation’ by Jonathan Reed. That was the first time I’d encountered a poem with this structure. Hope this helps! Best wishes, Brian

  26. Hi Brian,

    I just read your poem and I wanted to ask you how you were able to incorporate these ideas into the poem. Thanks
    1) White Privilege
    2) Social Construction
    3) Intersectionality
    4) Microaggressions
    5) Institutional Racism
    6) Color-Blindness

    1. Hi Daniel, I wrote it in the summer of 2016. It was written in response to stories of Syrian refugees drowning in the Mediterranean, and then seeing the reaction to those stories on social media. Hope this helps.

  27. Hi Brian
    Could I make use of your poem, Refugees, in a Catholic parish resource that I am putting together to enable parishes to welcome and receive, protect, promote and integrate migrant newcomers?

      1. Hi Brian
        Thank you very much and thank you for your kind words. Since we last communicated, two families from Ukraine have arrived in Perth. Your poem and the attitude that informs it will be a wonderful teaching moment for the receiving community here. Thank you, again.

  28. Hi Brian,
    Your poem is so powerful. Thank you for creating it and sharing it.
    My education nonprofit, Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility, would love to use the poem as part of a classroom activity aimed at encouraging empathy for refugees. Would that be possible? – Laura

  29. Hello Brian!

    I was just wondering if I could use this in my graduation speech this year. I fell in love with the message this sends and wanted to use it to get an idea across. Mathias

  30. Hello Mr. Bilston, I would like to include your impactful poem, Refugees, in our newsletter with your name and website. We are intercultural communication and DEI professionals. May I do this?

  31. Hello Mr. Bilston,
    Thank you so much for this wonderful poem! It shows so well how our attitudes reflect how we see “reality.” Would you allow me to use this poem in a Facebook post on the World Day of Migrants and Refugees on September 26th? I manage a Facebook page for Northern Arizona Immigration Legal Services, and I’m always looking for ways to help people see the humanity in migrants and refugees. I know this poem would contribute to that understanding. Thank you for considering this request.

      1. Thank YOU so very much. We’re grateful to have your permission to use this!

        In appreciation,

      2. Greetings Brian

        Hopefully you are recovering from your Covid19 experience.

        I belong to a shared reading group in Burton on Trent, based in the library.

        We have been asked to do a reading at an upcoming fund raising event organised by Friends of Burton Library.
        The poem Refugees has impressed our reading group and we would very much like to do a reading at the event.

        How do you feel about that, with appropriate credit to yourself of course, plus a mention of your books?

        I look forward to hearing from you.

        Kind regards

      3. Thanks for getting in touch, Ade. I’m on the mend, I think. And yes, please do feel free to include the poem in your upcoming reading – it would be an honour for it to feature.
        With best wishes,

  32. Thanks and very much appreciated.
    Looking forward to you being able to include Burton on Trent on a future tour, Burton Brewhouse is a good venue.
    Keep on getting better
    Kind regards

  33. Hello Brian. My integrated theatre group- half are autistic, half not- are putting on a musical we’ve written ,‘Sanctuary’, at the Library Theatre in Sheffield in December. With the true stories of two asylum seekers at its heart it asks our audience to do what ‘Refugees’ encourages- believe their stories could be yours.I’d like to include your poem in our programme. We are a charity and are collecting for two charities in Sheffield that support asylum seekers .

  34. Hi Brian,
    I hope this message meets you well.
    I really love this poem.
    Do you mind me including it in my PhD thesis? I did a research about successful resettlement of immigrants and would love to include your poem after acknowledgement section if you permit me. When the thesis is accepted by the doctoral school, the thesis will be available to the public through the university’s website at no cost.

    Thank you for your time in reading this message as I look forward to hearing from you soon.

    Best regards,


      1. Thank you for your brilliant poem, Refugees. I read it this morning at our Unitarian church service – and I have been asked if is possible for it to be included in the monthly Newsletter (which is emailed to all the members at no cost). Are you happy for us to do this?

      2. Thanks for your kind words, Jayne, and for reading the poem in your morning service. And yes, please feel free to include it in your monthly newsletter.
        Best wishes,

  35. Wow! This was an incredible poem. I have a question, what inspired you to write this poem? I hope you respond as i am very curious

    1. Thanks, Sara. I wrote it in response to images on my TV screen of poor refugees drowning in the Mediterranean. I then looked at Twitter on my phone, and saw these two starkly contrasting reactions to what was happening. I wanted to somehow capture these reactions, but write it in such a way that it ended in a positive affirmation and support for those people who simply cannot stay where they are and are seeking out a better life for themselves. Hope this helps,

  36. I am working as a volunteer for Cheltenham Welcomes Refugees and am writing to ask permission for us to use your powerful poem in our Refugee Week newsletter this year. I look forward to hearing from you.

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