This poem was written for and read at a vigil for the Rohingya People held in a city in the North of England, October 2018. This Yorkshire city is refuge to the largest Rohingya community in Europe. Several representatives from the local Rohingya community, the City Council, local Councillors and local Ministers of Parliament, faith leaders, and a volunteer organisation that is a joint initiative of the city’s Bishop and Lord Mayor, were gathered in the local Cathedral for the vigil, giving speeches and words of comfort. The author is from the volunteer organisation and was asked to prepare remarks.
This poem came quickly to the author the day of the vigil, following prayer asking for God’s view of their catastrophic situation. Immediately prior to reading it, the author explained this so that they could know God sees it all and that His heart breaks for them.
After the reading the Rohingya present were silent which was initially confusing to the author/reader, since each previous speaker was applauded after speaking. It was only after the vigil that the English-speaking Rohingya men rushed to her and asked her to read it again as they filmed this second reading on their phones. They expressed their appreciation with tears, explaining their previous silence came from a deep place of gratitude that led to stunned silence for such words being written on their behalf. They began sharing the second reading throughout their social media networks around the world and asked for a written copy they could send.
It can be safely said that the author was equally stunned and grateful that it met their hearts.
Although this was written specifically for the Rohingya, this also captures the lived experience of refugees and asylum seekers throughout the world. May we who follow Jesus’ Way be moved with compassion and truth, working with governments and local initiatives to provide safe places for landing, living and thriving.
They call us the “Floating People” – no homeland, no rights, no justice.
Outsiders. Everywhere. But Nowhere.
Fathers, uncles, brothers, cousins, children
Murdered before our eyes….
By those listening to lies…
Who think that they are wise…
Working for our demise.
Mothers, aunts, sisters, cousins, children
Oppressed, repressed, undressed, bare-breast…
Failing every test they put in their Manifest
To prove to all their “guests”, who stand holding their war chest….
That we, too, are human.
Yeah, the Floating People.
Babies, alive, thrown in the fire…….as we watch, horrified and helpless.
Unable to save my poor little babe. Not even a grave.
His funeral pyre…..
burning with hellfire…..
what more monstrous acts are required…..
before you notice…..
and really enquire?
I stare helpless …… and wail…
In this demon-riled
inhuman hell and abyss.
Into which we’re hurtling, swirling, whirling…..
Without a sanctuary…..
Yeah, it’s needed in a hurry…..
One without our adversaries…..
A refuge into which we can float.
We, the Floating People. Temporary residents.
Do you see, World? Do you care? Do you know that we are there?
Can you see our art, hear our songs of lament……our psalmistry?
We’ve been declaring this mockery…. with our very lives.
Listen to our collective history….
Which to you is a still a mystery…..
Being unveiled to you in this trickery and witchery
Perpetuated on us Oh.
A people with no liberty
…. on the periphery.
Of your lives.
When will you……
The Floating People. We are a people.
(c) When Women Speak … January 2019
D I Campbell, in following her curiosity and God’s leading, began a second career in 2002, focused on cross-cultural and cross-faith education where the church, Islam, society, gender and sometimes poverty meet amidst the swirl of changing mores and challenging identities. Hosting spaces that allow for voices from the margins to be heard, valued, and considered while inviting learning, dialogue and possibilities is among her profound joys. Getting to navigate among academic, specialist, and clergy circles to grassroots gatherings help keep things very interesting and authentic for her.