Poems about Sea Migration & Crossings


The shadow of the bird cut across the face of the moon,
semaphore wings sending messages for the leaving.

The Suitcase

See this empty suitcase full of all things lost
a leather-bound desertion of experience and cost.
A metaphor of meaning held by a rusty lock
looking for the leaving left beaten by the clock.
A reinforced expression of all the corners turned
a four- square application of all the lessons learned.
A travelogue of memories in random order packed
the beginnings and the endings left abandoned by the tracks.

See this empty suitcase tied with a tattered rope,
a battered box of belonging, it holds Pandora’s coat.

The sea Gods slept on the night they left, even the seabed held its breath.

The Boat

This little boat of dreams sails in a sea of green hope,
tossed and turned by the changing currents.
All are silent believing that silence can save them,
as they bale their dreams back into the sea.
Using their hands to push down despair,
clawing at the surface with ragged fishbone faith.
They drift.

This little boat taking these souls to a distant shore,
where hope laps the sand and what’s left of their dreams
puddle at their feet.
Barefoot lost and adrift, they wait.
Standing in the shadow of a bird
cutting crescents on the sand.

The Shoreline

The shoreline welcomed them with sharp sand clinging,
shimmering seashells breaking in the reflection of the moon.
The sea whispered soft goodbyes into their mid-night footsteps,
as they followed the shadows looking for sanctuary in dark corners-
dank sleeping bags-stolen moments.

The salt clung in white crust outlines
on lips, on eyelashes, in dreams.

Wrapping themselves in hope, they looked to the land
and waited for the wheels to turn.

Only the hook of the moon knew their names.




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Refugee, refugee
Why do you flee ?

I’m from a war torn place
Fear etched on my face
Escaping with my family.

Refugee, refugee
Why cross the vast sea ?

I’m risking an inflatable boat
To live in a paradise of note
Only to meet bureaucracy.

Refugee, refugee
Do you really feel free ?

I’m awaiting for my case
Cramped in a small space
Praying for some mercy.


One hundred souls on a trawler.
Packed sardine-like in the hold
instead of the usual catch,
or skin-burned up on deck
in the merciless drying sun.
Just as, centuries before;
Their ancestors, equally despairing,
Taken against their will.
Herded up, treated as non-human flesh,
Crammed head-to-foot, deep, deep
within other holds of other ships.
How desperate must they be
to risk this trip deliberately?
They know they may not make it, yet
still, they come, and come, and come…
A place of safety their only desire.
Men, women, children, babes in arms.
All fleeing who knows what
and going who knows where.
First indication of a problem and
the crew bail out in
the four-man tender
towed at the stern.
The abandoned try to bale;
save themselves,
but sardines cannot move.
Efforts futile, like their cries of fear.
Fishing boat sinks,
slowly merging with the ocean.
A husband jumps into the sea –
a sacrifice to save his wife and child.
All know they’ll join him soon,
Pray their end will not be hard.
SOS heard but
charity vessel too far away,
Pleas for rescue.
bring them safely to your shores.
They need your help.
There’s no response.

Even a fossil grey (or oyster grey?)
door-frame here contrives
to dazzle the eye; the ultramarine

is bluer than an Aegean wave;
cadmium yellow outguns the sunshine
down the long blond rutted sand;

the glowing emerald shade
outdoes its thirty-nine cousins;
the white shames my cleanest sheet.

These hyperborean chambers
are Apollo’s lost followers. In line
abreast, they’re doctors applying the art

of healing with colour. The doorways
lying more welcome wide
than meadow buttercups

soon will shut firmer than aeroplane
doors (or corks in bottled wine).
Winter will erupt

and when the long days come again
maybe all that will survive
will be a small bright spade and bucket.

Is it true
that the last emotion
a person will feel
as they drown
is hope?

To the dream
that led them to this point
they will add a vision
of their rescue,
imagine a life vest,
its levitational power
flying them to Europe
on a zephyr.

The autonomic nervous response
always assumes salvation
as it fights for life,
drives the instinct,
even underwater,
to breathe.

Hey! Starfish!
Rock back your head
and look up at the stars,
lay limp in the waves
like a boat
shot full of holes.

I see myself
being fished from the surf in the Riviera,
my pages pegged out on a line to dry
with Gucci bathing costumes, Obey snapbacks
Nike flip flops, Hilfiger towels
as equals.

But, Latinos, Darfur poet,
Abdel Wahab Yousif,
the limbs of your words,
the stems of their thought ambiguate,
ink melts across my watery collapse
Like the mascara running from your mother’s tears

when you said goodbye,
slipped me into your backpack,
promised her that you would write.

In August 2020, Sudanese poet, Abdel Wahab Yousif, known as Latinos, died when a rubber boat packed with African immigrants sank into the sea shortly after setting off from Libya on its way to Europe.

… about to die … one bar left of life

but it’s the only light out here … your words

vibrate in my hand … like the heartbeat of a

swallow … your icon is a star to navigate by

… our boat rolls like a drunk … my head

swims for shore … the engine coughs … so

cold … we go too slowly … water slops

between our toes … our feet have walked

through ice and fire a thousand miles to be

here … nearly there … the lights on the shore

look like Latakia … where once we smoked

hookah … where we slept on the beach

before we had to leave … the acacia trees …

my good job … our house disemboweled …

our windows blinded … arms and legs

detached from splintered chairs … I feel sick

… at every border ushered on … or turned

away … winking border guards seeking

favours … I could not afford a life vest too …

the water in the boat is deeper … the cold

spectating stars hide behind curtains of

cloud … we go too slowly … I fear they will

turn us away … if only I could post myself

my love … to you … a story on Instagram …

I click ‘share’ …

You know that sinking feeling you get
when your day comes over your boat
and you can’t get the water out?
Well, imagine it’s happening out at sea,
and your boat is full of others
with the same sinking feeling as you.

For the small things
He clung to a moving rudder for 14 days, little sleep, sipping rain water

For the small things
She hushed her child and sang him songs in the dark and cold of the container

For the small things
He swam a whole sea, belongings strapped around his neck
She sold her dignity, took nothing but a promise
He clung to the underside of a lorry, lungs filling with fumes
She woke in a hospital bed, not knowing how she got there
He walked and walked, getting weaker and weaker
She treated those who suffered, learning as she went
He wept as he stepped over those who didn’t make it
They held tight to a boat, held tighter to a dream

She did it for the small things
To laugh with her friends on the school bus
To walk down the road alone

He did it for the small things
To hold the hand of the man he loves
To have a say in who to date
To date at all

Just for the small things
To do the job she loves
To choose their own name
To share an opinion
To sleep without fear

It is all for the small things.

My grim fate struck suddenly, unforeseen.
Wrong race, religion, sex, or opinion?
It didn’t matter. They knew where I lived,
And they bayed for bloody retribution.

My cherished life was instantly shattered.
Only one option, I had to take flight.
No fond farewells, just the clothes on my back,
In terror’s grip, I fled into the night.

For weeks I journeyed across hostile lands.
An outlaw stowed on small boat and lorry.
In limbo’s grip, a wraith-like existence,
Challenged by death in purgatory.

At my odyssey’s end I found refuge.
Freedom to express myself once again.
Integrated into society.
Accepted, secure, and free to remain.

Should you suffer the fate that befell me,
Hapless victim of prejudice, and war.
I hope you too can find your asylum.
Some hospitable, compassionate shore.

The blood of your feet soaks the roads of Europe.
The tears of your mothers fill the seas you have crossed.
Here to our town, between canal and river,
cradled by hills, on the edge of the bay,
you have come, from far away deserts,
mountains and cities, from war and torture
and hatred – only to find a life.

It’s not that I am unaware of your fear,
as you stand looking out on the bay, but I want you to let
the peace of the moonlit path on the darkening water
console you. It’s not that I don’t see your pain,
the hours of your sleepless nights, but as you walk
the green paths by our river, I want you to know
you are walking home.

It’s not that I don’t understand,
It’s not that I cannot hear you,
in spite of the wind and the rain.
Your voice will be heard on our quiet streets, the darkness
you come from find light under our soft grey skies.

We scrabble to our feet,
the skinny kid beside me
is clinging to his seat.
I grab his hand
and make him stand,
our bodies rocking on
a sea as black as death.
Men fight to leave the boat,
that’s barely now afloat.
We jump, I hold him still,
we make our way
across the bay,
the freezing water
laps my thigh.
I thought we’d die,
out on the raging
swell of sea.
The boy’s eyes
bright with fear,
I lose his hand
and feel the sand
beneath my feet.
We run like silent ghosts
afraid to cry.
The lapping waves
give way to caves,
we hide and press
our bodies to the rocks,
our refuge.

The well from which we’ve always drawn our water has run dry
The house from which I stole the bread we needed to survive
has been abandoned and the road down which my daughter walked to school’s
no longer safe from men in uniforms who live by different rules.

The bus on which we tried to leave our home was stopped and burned
And without an explanation we were ordered to return
On foot while men in uniforms just laughed and cursed and spat
And found the money we had hidden in our shoes and in our bags

So the clothes in which we walked away were all that we possessed
The money we had stolen was all the money we had left
For the journey that would take us from all we’d ever known
To a country we imagined but could not imagine calling home

The phone on which I made the calls was borrowed from a stranger
To a cousin who sent money to a man who would arrange
“Everything, no problems, the papers, tickets, visas, yes.”
If we did what we were told and made no more requests.

The coast from which we left that night had never had a name
And no charts had ever been drawn up for the sea on which we sailed
No Pole Star and no Southern Cross to navigate our course
And the man who made the promises stayed standing on the shore.

The day on which the photograph was published round the world
inquiries were demanded and, they say, donations doubled
Points were raised in parliaments and heartfelt sorrows shared
On Facebook and on Twitter good people showed they cared

The picture showed a summers day of sea and sun and sand
And it showed a man in uniform not knowing quite how to stand
By the body of a girl just lying on the beach
And the name of my own daughter was written underneath.

The name of my own daughter mis-spelt and mis-aligned
The picture was declared a fake and people said I Iied
About the reasons we were leaving and the place we chose to go
And what kind of man would venture with his daughter on
A small boat
On a big sea
On a dark night
Like a bad dream

Ghost-like shapes on the horizon
bluster of distant whispers
anchored in perseverance
drifting, drifting
on the waves of briny fear
a cargo of hope
a babel of voices
as we draw near.

Weightless desires and dreams
are safely landed
the warp and weft of blankets
shroud fragile futures
while trauma lies in the wake
of every eye.

He sells sanctuary on distant seashores
Where rugged rocks drown the hopes of thousands more
Safe passage to a promised land, he lies
As he takes their life savings to save their lives
Small boats filled with water and desperation
A rising tide of human migration
Someone please rescue the ragged rascals from those rugged rocks
Be their promised nation

Aabish, Aisha, Afkar and Aflah
went down to the beach to pray one day
Aabish prayed to Allah for safe keeping
Aisha couldn`t stop herself from weeping
Afkar he lay with his lungs full of ocean
and Aflah he had a certain notion

that, wherever they lived
in tent or in tin
in camp or in crevice
in hostel or in bin
Christian, Muslim
Atheist and Jew

the sea will come in
and ring all that is true.

I saw a seagull flying high
Heard the sirens cry
As the mother placed the lifebelt on the child
A silence for a moment
As whispered prayer on trembling lips
God still the waters for our journey
Spirit guide us over the horizon
To the land of safety
We prayed that war would not come
But it did
We prayed for safety in our home
Our house was destroyed
We prayed to multiply our savings
Our savings for the future
Are with us in paper dollar bills
Half now gone to the smuggler
We prayed that You would guide
Our children in education
Schools are rubble and Teachers gone
Now uncertain
Hear our prayers
Answer our prayers still the water
Let not the jacket be used
The darkness on the placid sea
Soon swells
Moon hides his face
No stars to lead the way
The waves splash and slowly fill
The rubber boat the engine spluttering
Mothers distracting their children
Say all will be well God is with us
He will answer our prayers
All in the water
Fall silent a child no longer cries
In the darkness a light too far dims
We are refugees upon the seas
The land no longer wants us
The sea engulfs
And now we are home


He is a trafficker.
He trades people for cash.
Sometimes it’s a bit of a dash,
but he always ends up with a stash.
One thousand five hundred euros
for every man, woman or child
makes sure he’s always got a smile.
He doesn’t care where they have come from or where they are going it’s better for him not knowing.
He packs them into a boat
they can’t roam like mountain goats
he milks them for their bank notes.
Some of his vessels are not seaworthy
for such a perilous journey
but he is not bothered
if they make it or not.
He has heard that some have drowned
but that doesn’t cause him to frown
there will always be more
waiting to cross his palm
and he will tell them, don’t worry,

Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Syria 
Eritrea, Somalia and Sudan
the craft is small, the ocean    wide
England out there, beyond sight
Illegal immigrants, asylum seekers
economic migrants, refugees
                    they are called
someone’s brother, someone’s son, daughter
nephew, someone’s father, mother, aunt
uncle, niece, neighbour, friend
                    they are
fleeing inequality, exploitation, poverty, civil strife
West’s misguided interventions, lack of human rights
the boat is flimsy, too many on board
tossed and pitched like a child’s toy
I’d like to go to college
         I wish for a better life
                 I want my daughter to have a future
         in my country there’s a war, they want me to fight
my family need to feel safe
                 I fear for my life
in England you are free
dingy is deflating, it’s going to sink
so much water     no land, no help, no hope
twenty-seven tomorrows swallowed
by a cruel sea
Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Syria 
Eritrea, Somalia and Sudan
In Memoriam.

some real
some forged
necessity the mother of invention

grounded in fact
embroidered perhaps
the tapestry interwoven and created by need


a perpetual journey
through dangers unknown
difficulties too many to number
the end rarely in sight

prepare to be judged
prepare to be dissected
for it is…
flight followed by fight

I stand upon this centre dais,
gold medal around my neck.
And think of you, my country.

‘Which one?’ you ask.
‘The one that persecuted you,
that you fled from?’

The one that gave me sanctuary,
fed and clothed me, educated me.
Where are you now?

This country that fears my brothers in their small boats,
that threatens them with a life in exile,
is no longer the country that saved me.

‘No country for them,’ you say.

But they are the strongest of us,
the bravest of us,
the most desperate of us,
the most vulnerable,
and they are me.

I cannot hear you play that anthem,
that inappropriate music for me,
because I am them.

Are we never to exist,
      like the bird that never was –
          because its egg fell out of the nest,
              and smashed on the ground in a gooey mess.
Are we never to  speak,
      because we have no tongue,
          when our rights were taken away,
              and the few speak for the many.
Are we never to earn money,
      because we have not been told to,
          the permission has not been granted,
              so we have no right to work.
When our country was taken,
      our people lost their will and their possessions,
          their right to choose – was suddenly not theirs any-more,
              choices are made for them.
Do you stand by and watch,
      the massacre of what we believe in,
          our freedom – our minds – our will,
              the right to choose for ourselves.
Do we make a perilous journey,
      across the unforgiving seas, and treacherous land,
          to countries that do not want us,
              or they are so full there is no room.
If we cross the sea – it is a crime,
      if someone helps us – it is a crime,
          if we drown – it is an atrocity,
              but, no one weeps – not even our own country.
We are human – we live – we breathe,
      blood runs through our veins,
          our children are scared – bewildered,
              our voices are drowned out by hypocrisy.
We feel like the bird,
      that never hatched from the egg,
          our plight is a jumble of red tape,
              and no one will dare speak for us.
We simply want to live freely,
      no war – no tyrants – no guns – no bombs,
          just to live, to breathe, to work,
              is peace and humanity too much to ask for?