Syrian Refugee Camp, Karkosik Erbil by Mustafa Khayat.jpg

10 Syrians

10 Syrians

by Marc Nair | 19 June 2016

This week is World Refugee Week and 20 June is World Refugee Day. Mackerel pays tribute to the millions of people who have been displaced throughout the globe. In particular, the Syrian refugee crisis has been catastrophic on multiple counts; people have had to flee carrying nothing more than grief, a land is gradually imploding from within and countries have had to undertake some serious soul-searching; crates of good-will or tweets of regret are no longer enough.

This poem was written after reading real-life accounts of Syrians as they attempted to flee their war-torn country. It was first written and performed at Speak For Syria, 18 March 2016 at The Arts House. 

Listen to a rendition of this poem, accompanied by bassist Tim De Cotta, at the National Library Board's Read! Festival in June 2016. 

Cover image: Syrian refugee camp, Karkosik Erbil. (Mustafa Khayat / Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0).)

Migrants and refugees arrive by dinghy after crossing from Turkey to the island of Lesbos, Greece. Photograph by Freedom House.


10 Syrians

As you listen to this poem, one Syrian will decide that this is his last day in hell and there can't be another night. 

Two Syrians will be sewing enough money for their university degrees inside the lining of their shoes so they can find passage on an overloaded boat.  

Three Syrians will leave as strangers and arrive on a different shore as a family. 

Four Syrians will fall asleep in a mosque and dream of the call to prayer; the muezzin's melody turning into a scream and when they wake it is to rubble and the wail of a siren.

Five Syrians have forgotten the direction to pray. They have been turned about so many times: by the EU, by border police, by other refugees who warn of camps being run clean of everything but stray dogs. They lost their compass after cops beat them awake with batons, and chased them into the forest between two angry cities, without their shoes.

As you listen to this poem, six Syrians are writing their final words in their law exam booklets. Today they will take the bus home along the boundary between regime and rebel territory, sniper bullets lodging in the back of their textbooks. Tomorrow they will be drafted. Tonight they must run. 

Seven Syrians decide to play refugee roulette. Three take a boat from Turkey, and get caught by the coastguard when the boat runs out of fuel. The other four trek over the mountains. One of them reaches Vienna. 

Eight Syrians share a hotel room in Istanbul and plot how to bring their wives from Syria, how to find an honest ship, how long one can hide in the trunk of a car without feeling less than human. 

It takes nine tries for one Syrian to find his family in the West. It takes one smuggler to kill ninety-nine Syrians with a leaking skiff sent out to sea. 

After you listen to this poem, approximately ten Syrians will have left their country.  

Photograph by Freedom House