Riots in Dublin
Monday, 15 July 2024 13:36

The Suitcase

Published in Fiction

He carries the suitcase like he means business. He carries it like he cares about it. He carries it like he cares about it too much. He carries it like he’s been somewhere with it. Like they’ve been somewhere. Together. The suitcase and him.

The suitcase never leaves his side. A family heirloom some suggest. Or it’s carrying stolen goods. A suitcase of lifesaving or painkilling pills. For his gout – he has a limp, after all – or chemo for his unseen cancer. A suitcase to hold his collection of false teeth. Only one person suggests that. That would mean he’s a travelling tooth salesman. Tooth fairy? Disgraced dentist? After a short argument, we agree the suitcase isn’t carrying false teeth, and the man who suggested it gets his coat and leaves.

It's a serious business and people get unsettled, don’t they, and need to know what’s going on because a man carrying a suitcase everywhere he goes, never leaving his side, arouses suspicion. It’s natural, it’s human nature to be inquisitive. To care what’s happening in their neighbourhood. What if he’s a refugee wanting shelter? A home? One of our homes? What if he’s come out of hospital and he’s lost his mind and doesn’t know where he is or even who he is? What if he’s a murderer carrying the body parts of his victim? What if he’s carrying a bomb?

Wouldn’t it be a good idea to talk to him, some people might think. To ask his name. Ask him where he’s come from. How long he’s staying. Where he’s going. Ask him what he has inside the suitcase.

But what if he becomes defensive when he’s questioned? Aggressive? Upset? Starts crying? Starts shouting? Starts laughing? Uncontrollably? Like he’s demented or having some kind of fit? What if he triggers the bomb? On purpose? By mistake? Either way, it’s going off, and then everyone will be sorry.

Better to call for help before it’s too late. Ring friends. Supporters. People who care about this type of thing. Shout into alleyways. Yell from rooftops. Send messages online. Sort it out. Sort him out. Grab his suitcase. Open it – it’s not going to be a bomb. Very unlikely to be. It would have gone off by now. Empty it out. Throw everything away. Burn it. Tell him he shouldn’t be here. Making trouble. Threatening people. Taking what’s ours. He doesn’t belong. Tell him that even if he doesn’t understand.

He’ll know it anyway. He’ll see it in our expressions. In our eyes. In the flickering flames above him. On the soles of our shoes raining down. On the tattoos on our arms and fists – mum, flag, love, hate, united, brothers.


“Salty Terms” to Deter Asylum Seekers
Monday, 15 July 2024 13:36

“Salty Terms” to Deter Asylum Seekers

Published in Poetry

“Salty Terms” to Deter Asylum Seekers

(An extended villanelle or 'villanelle-vague')

“If they don’t like barges then they should f*** off back to France”
                     —Lee Anderson MP, Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party

“Lee Anderson expresses the righteous indignation of the British people. Yes, he does it in salty terms”
                    —Alex Chalk MP, Justice secretary

Conservatives ride crests of wavering votes,
Divide & rule the waves over coercible
Tabloid-fed electors, booming STOP THE BOATS.

Few tears for refugees who can’t stay afloat
Or who are deported as undesirables—
Conservatives ride crests of wavering votes;

But tributes brim over when the Titan implodes
As billionaire hubris turns a submersible
Into a timebomb—there are sobs for certain boats.

Jenrick gives ‘reception centres’ a few thick coats
To cover up too-welcoming cartoon murals—
Conservatives ride crests of wavering votes;

Traumatised children tasked to take bitter note
That Britain’s the place to re-burst their bubbles
Buoyed by tabloids booming STOP THE BOATS.

They fled war & torture but now must cope
With mouthfuls of red rags dripped on by Whitehall—
Conservatives ride crests of wavering votes.

Unaccompanied minors going missing in smoke;
‘Gammon’ vigilantes storming “migrant hotels”
Buoyed by tabloids booming STOP THE BOATS.

“Fuck off back to France” or board Bibby Stockholm’s
Bacterial lab of xenophobic microbials—
Conservatives ride crests of wavering votes;

Language as “salty” as seawater that chokes
Refugees’ lungs—toxic rhetoric makes coral
& skeletons for Davy Jones’ Locker. STOP. BOATS.

Crossing the Rubicon of bloodred tropes,
English-channelling Nigel Farage & Enoch Powell—
Slavering Braverman craves wavering votes;

“Luxury beliefs” like compassion & hope
Spouted from “ivory towers” by liberals,
Blown out of the water of thought.  STOP THE BOATS.

Bash “lefty lawyers” as unpatriotic Woke,
Spike public discourse & puncture inflatables—
Conservatives ride crests of wavering votes;
just to shout STOP THE BOATS.

Sunken Levels
Monday, 15 July 2024 13:36

Sunken Levels

Published in Poetry

Sunken Levels

by Jim Aitken

It was the first item on the news
for days, the Titan submersible
taking a group to see the Titanic wreck.

The loss of life was indeed tragic, as was
the £200,000 fee charged to those on board
to view the wreck and never return home alive.

Less newsworthy was the unnamed boat
that sunk in stormy seas off the Grecian coast
with the loss of eighty lives, mainly Pakistanis.

And less newsworthy the thirty-nine Vietnamese
lives lost, found inside a container lorry. Neither
the Pakistanis or the Vietnamese had names, it seems,

Unlike those in the Titan submersible who were all
named. The difference was all to do with wealth,
with class status, for the migrants were simply poor

And those in the submersible had cash to throw away.
It reminded me of Bezos and his rocket into space
thanking his Amazon workers for this unseemly waste.

With a media that worships wealth and despises the poor
both at home and abroad, though especially abroad,
the difference in coverage was class-ridden and predictable.

Yet they say that class is over these days; that it doesn’t
matter anymore. Yet, there is no level to which the wealthy
will sink to stay wealthy – should this not be learned anew?

Or do we all sink together so that the wealthy can
continue to be wealthy at the expense of the world’s poor
as the land burns and the sea levels rise to sink even them?

Or do we instead talk of rich and poor all over again and give
place for egalitarian dreams to flourish; to challenge the all-
consuming, insatiable appetites of the few and raise the many?

Nadir: Poems about migrant children
Monday, 15 July 2024 13:36

Nadir: Poems about migrant children

Published in Poetry

3 poems from ‘Nadir’ by Laura Fusco translated by Caroline Maldonado:

The following poems are taken from a forthcoming collection, Nadir by Laura Fusco, the sequel to Liminal (Smokestack Books 2020) which was a recipient of the PEN (UK) Translates Award 2019. The first collection powerfully represented the experiences of migrants in camps in France and Italy. Nadir has a focus on migrant children. It is due to be published by Smokestack on 1 January 2022.

Laura Fusco, poet and stage director, has been translated into 5 languages and published in the US, UK, Europe and Argentina. Her publications include Aqua nuda (2011), Da da da (2012), La pesatrice di perle (2015), Limbo (Unicité 2018), Liminal (Smokestack Books, 2019 English PEN Translates Award), and Nadir (Unicité 2020). She has performed her poems in various countries and festivals and they are studied in universities and music conservatories.

Caroline Maldonado’s Italian translations published by Smokestack Books include: Your call keeps us awake (2013); Isabella (2019) and Laura Fusco’s poems in Liminal (2020) and Nadir (2022). A collection of her own poems, Faultines, will be published by Vole Books (2022).


An ochre and gold snake, red pink fuchsia,
orange, yellow, green, light blue, indigo, violet.
As fast as clouds, highly-coloured contrails.
No wall will do it.
When they have to keep still in a square metre of fever or on the cot they get bored
close their eyes and imagine.
When they have stomach-ache, nightmares, are frightened
or angry
they turn away from each other close their eyes and imagine.
In between what they imagine and reality
there’s a space they know and run towards without stopping,
even when they’re doing nothing,
even when they don’t know it and cry or play or are just
After so many steps
now that I’m only one step away from
No wall will do it.
Even if their struggle is
Ochre of gold red pink fuchsia orange
is more real than any power
more than any person who writes They have suicidal instincts, continual nightmares.
Sometimes they consider violence
normal. They learn it to enact it.
They’ll become insensitive to pain,
They’ll abuse drugs and medicines, they will abuse.
Someone dies or gets lost in their imagining
like the passeurs on their mountain crossings,
because to imagine is their crossing
and that’s the reason theirs is
the world.
There the only storm is the doubt that dreaming might not have power over what they see
and feel
and touch
but they leave the illusion to grown-ups that a camp is more real
than the story they are writing, eating, sleeping, waiting for, thinking.
Spaces and times that aren’t there yet open up to let them pass and to let them pass they exist and they themselves are open to another kind of existence.
Ochre of gold red pink fuchsia orange…


A pitiless shining sky strikes them from over a streaked horizon.
They come from Eritrea from Sudan from Iran from Nigeria from Syria but also from the other side of the world, Nicaragua and Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras.
Some of them open up the route,
others follow behind
in this crowd towards who knows what kind of destiny but hopefully different,
when different means new, reborn, more just, better.
It is a reptile made up of many cities.
One for every person or group
“A crowd of hundreds of solitudes”
put together from fear and hope
that snakes along for kilometres visible against the dark brown of the earth,
the thick fog through the bottle green of leaves,
skies with cotton clouds,
earth hailstones colour of rust and cucumber.
Or in Indian file adding metres, adding streams and wide muddy rivers,
whirlpools, slippery stones, icy passes
or lined up on the beach each awaiting their turn.
in arms or helped by grown-ups.
The colour of the rainbow appears in every dip curve advances disappears to
slows down speeds up without ever stopping ice good weather Saturday Sunday Monday.
At first the odd hundred, then the throng gathers other migrants along the way
and they collect more
“Poor people have always been shut out of everything”.
Now they aren’t any longer,
at least in the caravan that bit by bit swells like murky water.
The caravan even has a daughter,
three weeks old,
but while that’s how it is for her, the others…

Died of hunger,
died from privation,
died from dehydration,
were asphyxiated,
died poisoned by fumes,
died suffocated,
during the fires,
in the mass deportation in the middle of the desert,
caught up in revolts,
in traffic accidents,
crushed by the weight of goods,
drowned in rivers,
from excessive heat,
from the snow’s cold in thunderstorms,
crossing mountain passes,
in mined camps,
struggling on boats,
from hunger and thirst drifting on ferries,

Defending their own children,
defending their own men,
defending their own life,
defending the future,
thrown into the sea by survivors,
but they aren’t survivors
because they don’t know how to swim,
because they’re frozen inside an airplane’s undercarriage ,
killed under trains falling along the tracks or electrocuted,
losing their grip under lorry wheels,
battered to death,
punched to death,
killed after falling into a coma,
killed by other survivors searching for a way to escape and trampling on them,
killed by other survivors who capsized the boat,
killed by people smugglers who threw them into the sea like ballast,
killed even if they were pregnant,
with grandchildren beside them,
with children a few steps away crying,
They were hungry and thirsty.
They were cold and frightened.

Never again

Images are their ghosts.
They will accompany them,
Even if they go to the camp’s psychologist, they’ll still take medication.
Waves of obsidian.
Sky the colour of turmeric.
Clouds blown up until they explode.
At home
fetching water used to be a journey but this time it came
onto the deck of the boat and carried her away.
A thud.
A wave collapses
where the bodies are.
There was
She should have kissed the earth because she was alive like sailors who survive storms.
Instead she doesn’t speak,
doesn’t eat
doesn’t sleep.
To heal is the only journey.
The rest is kilometres
and days to get through,

Cultural beheading
Monday, 15 July 2024 13:36

Cultural beheading: art from Syrian refugees

Published in Visual Arts

Since the start of war in Syria, politics has taken over discussion whenever the country’s name is mentioned. However, the Hikayetna project concentrates on the human side of the issue, focusing on the refugee crisis and victims' experiences and journeys to escape the conflict. This is an apolitical and independent project striving to aid Syrian communities.

I stress “communities” as a collective term due to Syria’s social mosaic richness, and the project has a pluralistic approach. For example, Arab Sunnis, Arab Alawites, Kurd-Sunnis, Orthodox Christians, Armenian Christians, Arab Druze, Arab Ismaeli, Turkmen, Circassian, Jewish and many other minorities are all part of the colourful mosaic of Syrian society.

The project aims to eradicate the stereotypes of Syria and Syrian people which are generated by certain sections of the media. This is challenged by promoting cultural activities, from arts and music to writing and painting. In the process, Hikayetna raises the profile of Syrian underground artists in the UK and creates a platform to connect Syrians from around the world. A Damascene girl who writes a story in Ghana can easily find a photograph taken by a young Syrian boy in Berlin to accompany her story. Suliman Osman, a Syrian journalist who leads the project says,

The aim of the project is to give refugees a chance to participate. I have refugees who can hardly write properly, yet they write their stories and send them to me.

Stories come from Sweden, Germany, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and many other areas where Syrians arrive to escape war zones. That way, the young are encouraged to spread and share their stories, with the help of training and editing from Hikayetna’s volunteers.

As a large bulk of Syrian society flees the war, the project searches for artists amongst the displaced. When they are discovered, the intention is to reach out and bring them to light, whether they are painters, musicians, writers or other artists. Artists like Esam Hamzah may find a platform to express, show & connect with other artists by an exhibition set up by Hikayetna.

An advantage that the project members have is their awareness of life in the UK and Syria. Therefore it is easier to understand the process of amalgamation and bring communities together to examine issues of integration for Syrians in the UK.

Lastly, and importantly, is the most powerful feature of the project –the aim to empower Syrian women. Nowadays, Syrian women are viewed by the public as refugees, victims of rape or child brides. Hikayetna makes a serious attempt to foreground another image of them. It does not discriminate, as Syrian women from all ethnic backgrounds are targeted. They are encouraged and empowered to bring change, express their voice and enhance their self-esteem.

Like Culture Matters, the project survives on contributions from volunteers: writers, translators, interpreters and editors work together to keep the project going.
Below is a poem for Culture Matters, and the illustration too. To see more please visit our site:


By Haqi Omar

At first he hated solitude while food became tasteless
Felt no taste for morning coffee
Fairouz songs became a routine.

No longer life is like before
But with time, solitude became beautiful
Solitude of special taste.

Leaves morning time with zeal to come back home, to solitude.
Zeal to drink coffee alone
To watch the news alone.

Does not know how to make friendships, as old friendships are sweeter.
Does not know how to love, as old love is sweeter
Does not want to be in new place, somewhere does not look like him.

Embraces solitude, living between old and new
Cannot go back to the old, nor wants the new
Yes friends, it is a solitude where we find refuge, from which

we cannot depart.

Haqi Omar is a Syrian pharmacist based in Denmark.

Monday, 15 July 2024 13:36

Short Story: Ark of Salvation

Published in Fiction

In my old smelly socks, I place personal papers and some money notes wrapped in remnants of plastic bag to avoid its destruction from seawater. The night gets dark when the smuggler informs us that the trafficking ark is near the shore and that tonight we have to be careful as lifeguards are nearby.

We are individuals of different background, individuals with a sole dream: salvation.
We do not know the smugglers’ names. They use nicknames. They drive us like cattle to the unknown. A few minutes pass, we are there. It is an old wet rusty fishing ark, but the crew assures us that it is the best way to cross the Mediterranean Sea. We head to its heart in the middle where caught fish are usually kept.A pervasive stench blocks our nostrils.

There were groups before us who had already taken their share of space in that miserable place.
We cram in so everyone fits. Bodies stitch to bodies like those in sardine tins from the above view. We are just that: sardine tins ready to export.

Our number is complete and ready for a trip of salvation. As the ark cuts waves, those on board vomit. They are mostly women and children who ride the sea for the first time. There is a hole to allow the air in near the ceiling of the room. The door is well-locked from outside so lifeguards do not spot us if they stop and search the ark. We feel the tightness of the place. Now and again, a crew member opens the door so we can breathe. Other times he throws water bottles at us. The journey is expected to take two days if things go well.

There is some enjoyment at first. Everyone is full of hope that soon we will get to the ankles of the elderly continent and that humanitarian organisations await us at the shore.
But boredom arrives. The disposal of rubbish and body waste has now become a challenge for some as there is an only toilet (mainly for the crew use) with a long queue. Some direct their cocks towards the sea to piss. Others shit in bags and then fling them into water. That is what we do at night.

Daytime. The human traffickers forbid anyone out on the board. They are fearful of sky guards recognising the ark as not a usual “fishing ship”. Silence falls on the room. Everyone shuts up with no more life tales when the sound of a helicopter echoes in the space. A human trafficker orders to halt all noise and motions. I stop eating the last biscuit I have so they don’t catch us because of the grazing sound. The noisy helicopter gets closer and closer. Heart beats fasten as the sound loudens.

We are an easy catch for lifeguards in the open sea while the sun sharpens above. The helicopter drifts away and we sigh with relief. Some recite prayers and verses. Others pray for Virgin Mary. We all ask for Sky’s mercy. Everyone returns back to conversation as the crew assures us that tomorrow we will arrive to the seaside. Joy.

We do not see anything apart from glimpses we have via a small hole where Canary fetches news vividly with the use of ringing expressions to describe the plane’s closeness. He comforts us, “Everything’s going to be alright”. Canary has three disorderly teeth in his mouth. He gets the nickname as he is the only source of information that flies around us with breaking news sometimes, full analysis other times and ends with a hysterical laugh when his inner organs are visible through/in his mouth.

Each person has a different story than the others. There is a man who has sold everything to pay for the trip. A woman has borrowed from all relatives. Everyone promised to pay debts. Each person has an own reason to leave, but all share a single goal: salvation. A new start for some, perhaps a dream for others.

Suddenly, footsteps of crewmembers quicken above our heads. They seem to run in different directions as we stay in the darkness below – we do not know what is happening above.
The sound disappears. No footsteps. Nothingness.

“They are running away, they are running away!” shouts Canary. All at once we reply, “Who is running away?”
“Crew members… those bastards are getting away in inflatable boats!”

We shout loudly, we hope to bring the crew members back. The door is locked from outside, no one can leave. Women and children scream. We look deeply at each other. Is it possible that we have been left on the open sea, alone with no crew and captain? Who will sail the ark, and where will it go? Men try to control the atmosphere and put women at ease with the assertion that lifeguards will find us with their satellite systems, sophisticated radars and variety of laser sensitivity equipment and that there is still hope for things not to go worse.

The ark rattles in the sea and the sole hope is that tiny hole. A single eye gazes from that hole to the horizon, behind it we wait for the moment that a rescue boat, lifeguards or helicopter will steal us from agony. Our location is only known to the human traffickers who have left us to face the unknown. No captain, no compass, no anchor. Nothing.

Hopelessness oozes its way into all people in the room. There are only waves around us as we take turns to observe the world outside from that small hole. Air becomes rare while rife stench suffocates us. A mixture of vomit, shit, body odour, fish, old walls and the smelly socks I wear. We take turns to watch from the hole. That is our only world now.

our home
is but one country
truly, the whole earth
is there for them to settle
tell us if you can, where else
shall we go when they have come?
they do not belong in our homeland
you should blush when you say to us
we must turn our vision up-side down

we must turn our vision up-side down
you should blush when you say to us
they do not belong in our homeland
shall we go when they have come?
tell us if you can, where else
is there for them to settle
truly, the whole earth
is but one country
our home

No longer do we desire the elderly continent. No longer do we seek humanitarian organisations. All we want is to see the sky and touch the shore anew. Any shore, it does not matter where anymore. Waves play with the ark, left, right and centre. Darkness arrives, and the sound of nothingness but waves that make love to the ark’s body. The sea is a scary creature in darkness. There is not enough light in the room. Mobile phone lights fade away gradually. Hopelessness.

All at once we look to the sky and ask… where is the salvation? “You in the sky: Why doesn’t the ark sink and snatch us from this slow death!” Exhaustion takes charge. Eyes surrender to sleep. The ark rocks me like a newborn baby in the cradle. Images invade my head. My childhood and allies. Hallucination. Faces I have met in my life become clearer and clearer with fish masks on. The fish that a few minutes from now will taste its worst meal ever eaten between their jaws when they eat me. Perhaps the fish here are used to immigrants’ meat. For we are not the first, nor the last they eat.

I hold myself together not to cry and search for a piece of paper to put down my last moments. The last life confession. It must be the most beautiful and truthful thing I write. It must be with heart. I find a single expression: Sorry. Sorry for things I leave hanging in the air. Sorry, my country. Sorry, mama. Sorry, baba. Sorry, siblings.

And thank you, salty Mediterranean, for your warm welcome, even though we don’t have passports and visas. Thank you for shells at the bottom. Thank you for seaweed that will catch between teeth, cover nostrils and eye sockets when we are corpses in your deep blue belly.
We will be more beautiful as our carcasses float, reach the shore where tourists push them back to water just as they do with whales that accidently land on coast.

As I hallucinate, the ark rocks violently. It hits something. Everyone is in deep sleep, or at least that is what I imagine. We hear footsteps above on the board and a language I do not understand. A group of guys among us move towards the shut door. Crazily we start to hit the door with our bare hands and shout in all languages, “Help us, help, we are here. Help.”
Someone tries to open the door. We scream. A few hits on the lock, it breaks. The door opens – the light bursts into the room. For a few moments we see nothing.

Then things clear up. We see those outside better when eyes adjust from darkness to the light. As if they were aliens at first. They speak a language we do not understand. They try various languages. They start to speak in English, “Where are you from?”

I answer instinctively, “We are from Earth”. I sense their astonishment by the answer. They ask nothing thereafter. Hands pull us out like babies dragged from wombs. A new birth after the painful journey. Eyes still cannot stay open. They refuse the light. They like darkness. They are used to it. The ark is hauled to the shore like a man sentenced to hang and pulling the rope behind himself to death spot. When my foot touches the shore, a loud cry leaves my chest to echo in the world. I kneel to smell and kiss the sand of the beach. I act instinctively. I sit to watch the ark as they take corps one after another: children, women and elderly, all put in blue plastic bags. Each body has enough space now, to stretch. No more gatherings, tightness and squeeze. They are free now.

I feel desire for revenge. I only find that wicked ark in front of me. I stand up. Speed up. Shout loudly and throw stones at its wrecked body. All stones go to that small tiny hole we used for seeing the outside world. It swallows all stones one by one. Others join. They scream and throw stones. The ark continues to swallow stones from the small hole. That nasty hole eats the entire universe.

Eventually the ark sinks. We hear it screaming on the way down. We look at each other. We are empty, with all possessions in that ark where the dark room is, where that tiny hole is.
The hole resembles Jesus’s body. We run towards it to erase sins. That hole is our presence. It is everything we have. Apart from that, nothing is worthy.

translated by Amir Darwish. Embedded poem by Rod Duncan