Every Day Is World Refugee Day

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The relatively benign scene at the Expo. Photo by Tristan Spinski, New York Times. Front photo by Derek Davis, Portland Press Herald

Last week the U.N. declared World Refugee Day to shine a light on the record, almost 26 million poor, brown, defenseless souls our monsters in power keep using as political pawns in an unconscionable "death by a thousand cuts.” It's always good to remind us of the human misery at the edges of our privilege, but the crimes, alas, mount. The horrific tales emerging of the conditions of "some suburb of hell" where thousands are now incarcerated - concrete floors, packed bodies, freezing dog-pound-style detention pens, flu, lice, shit, vomit, trauma, hunger, sexual abuse and dear God sobbing children - were best if gruesomely embodied by the spectacle of demon DOJ lawyer Sarah "Eichmann" Fabian struggling to explain to horrified judges why children don't need soap, beds or toothbrushes to be "safe and sanitary" as required by law. One helpful observer to Fabian, "Your room in hell is ready." Finally, lest we forget, greedy people are making money from these atrocities, and they are part of a long historical arc - yes we have locked up many innocents before - proving that, "Once there are concentration camps" - yes they are concentration camps - "it is always probable that things will get worse."

Still, many are fighting back to assert the fundamental human rights of refugees. They are telling their stories and citing their too-often neglected accomplishments. They are declaring themselves safe spaces and sanctuary states, counties, cities. They are vowing, as Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker just did by signing several new laws, that private entities will not "profit off the intolerance of this president.” And they are finding new, humane ways to confront the crisis. Here in Portland, Maine, hundreds of new asylum seekers from Angola and the Congo just arrived en masse, bundled into buses from Texas after months making their harrowing way through South and Central America, mostly on foot. Portland has already absorbed several thousand African refugees and crafted an extraordinary, grassroots support network for them, but we've seen nothing like this - the big numbers at once, the horror stories, the desperation. Still, we have rallied. City and state officials found money, created decent shelter, reached out to other towns. People have raised over $400,000 and donated mountains of clothes, toys, baby food. African leaders organized volunteers,  Angolan and Congolese women flocked to cook native meals, truckloads of diapers shipped, lawyers, doctors, translators stepped up. It's neither easy nor complicated, but it's doable. In the name of our common humanity, because this.


Home, by Warsan Shire.
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

your neighbors running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.

no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
your neck
and even then you carried the anthem under
your breath
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilet
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.

you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
under trains
beneath carriages
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten
pitied

no one chooses refugee camps
or strip searches where your
body is left aching
or prison,
because prison is safer
than a city of fire
and one prison guard
in the night
is better than a truckload
of men who look like your father
no one could take it
no one could stomach it
no one skin would be tough enough

the
go home blacks
refugees
dirty immigrants
asylum seekers
sucking our country dry
niggers with their hands out
they smell strange
savage
messed up their country and now they want
to mess ours up
how do the words
the dirty looks
roll off your backs
maybe because the blow is softer
than a limb torn off

or the words are more tender
than fourteen men between
your legs
or the insults are easier
to swallow
than rubble
than bone
than your child body
in pieces.
i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
drown
save
be hunger
beg
forget pride
your survival is more important

no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
saying-
leave,
run away from me now
i dont know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here.

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Single dad staying at the Expo takes a walk with his four kids. Photo by Jonathan Wiggs/Boston Globe

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 Congolese and Angolan woman in Portland have been making native dishes for newcomers at the Expo. Photo by Brianna Soupkup/Press Herald

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