Mourning the Suffering of the Refugees

Michael Lerner flags up the current refugee crisis. Rabbi Michael Lerner is the editor of Tikkun.

September 4, 2015

Editor’s note: The poem below presents the most authentic understanding of the situation of the world’s refugees in the contemporary world. The refugees are momentarily in the media and hence in the consciousness of the world’s humanity, but will too soon fade from popular memory as do all who suffer. People have momentarily been moved by the great suffering of these refugees, and particularly their children, but politely ignore the role that the US and other “advanced” industrial European societies have played in creating the economic and political conditions which have led to the vast increase of refugees in the past twenty years.

For the U.S., that responsibility includes both the economic devastation wrought in South and Central America, Africa and Asia by the trade agreements (championed by the Clintons and more recently by Obama) that destroyed subsistence farming and forced millions of people into the barrios and slums of the big cities where they were often forced to choose between armed opposition to ruling elites or selling their children into slavery or sexual exploitation rather than see them starve to death; and also the devastation created by the U.S. wars against Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and drone strikes in Yemen all of which gave rise to the Islamic State of Iraq & Syris (ISIS) with its brutality now spreading through populations driven crazy by the violence that the US and its allies intensified in the Middle East. So while Americans sit around looking in shock at this situation, deploring the growing xenophobia that not only is growing in Europe but which is being played to for political advantage by the Trump candidacy and other candidates for the Republic Presidential nomination, many willfully ignore the role of our own country in creating the preconditions for this growing horror show.

What a disgrace that politicians on the Right can rally support by calling for an expulsion of 11 million undocumented refugees in the U.S. (most of whom came here because it was impossible to make a living anymore in countries devastated by global capitalism and run by military elites trained in the torture and oppression that the School of Americas teaches to Central and South American militaries at Ft. Benning Georgia). It makes me want to cry, to yell, and to mourn. (Plenty of material for the days of repentance and atonement that we will be observing from September 13th to September 23rd). Warsan Shire's poem below helps that process of mourning and repentance. We will be reading her poem as part of our High Holiday service at Beyt Tikkun Synagogue Without Walls in Berkeley, Ca. (Details at

- Rabbi Michael Lerner

“No One Leaves Home” by Warsan Shire

September 2, 2015 by Alam 


no one leaves home unlessRefugees

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 toilets

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


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


go home blacks


dirty immigrants

asylum seekers

sucking our country dry

niggers with their hands out

they smell strange


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



be hunger


forget pride

your survival is more important

no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear



run away from me now

I don't know what I've become

but I know that anywhere

is safer than here

Main photograph by Daniet Etter/New York Times/Redux /eyevine. Laith Majid cries tears of joy and relief that he and his children have made it to Europe.

Warsan Shire is a Kenyan-born Somali poet, writer and educator based in London. Born in 1988, Warsan has read her work extensively all over Britain and internationally – including recent readings in South Africa, Italy, Germany, Canada, North America and Kenya- and her d├ębut book, ‘TEACHING MY MOTHER HOW TO GIVE BIRTH’ (flipped eye), was published in 2011. Her poems have been published in Wasafiri, Magma and Poetry Review and in the anthology ‘The Salt Book of Younger Poets’ (Salt, 2011). She is the current poetry editor at SPOOK magazine. In 2012 she represented Somalia at the Poetry Parnassus, the festival of the world poets at the Southbank, London. She is a Complete Works II poet. Her poetry has been translated into Italian, Spanish and Portuguese. Warsan is also the unanimous winner of the 2013 Inaugural Brunel University African Poetry Prize. 

1 comment:

  1. Its another tragedy that sums up the hypocrisy of the Left, and how they are incapable of the standards they (self appointedly) hold others to. They lobbied their MP's to block any attempt at western intervention to remove Assad ,we didnt need another Iraq etc (Disclaimer: I was against it too) . Well this is the flip side of it, delaying Assads fall meant that a little al-Qaida offshoot has grown into the force most likely to wear his crown, and people are rightly running for their lives. Im not saying what has happened means intervention should of been persued, Im noting the finger of blame only traces an arc away from the pointer.
    PS its a bad poem btw. Real stinker. Double tragedgy.