The following song lyrics are posted here with apologies to Woody Guthrie, though I doubt that he would have wanted any apology. The words are a re-working of his justly famous song Deportee (also known as Plane Wreck at Los Gatos).
I’ve tried to stick as closely as possible to the original lyrics.
The song was written about the exploitation and ill-treatment of Mexican migrant workers in the USA. That situation is far worse now than it was in Woody’s time. In addition, poverty stricken men, women and children from Guatemala, El Salvador and other Central American nations are joining the Mexicans in attempts to work for a better life.
We tend to focus, understandably enough, on what is happening with the refugee crisis in Europe, and my tweaking of Guthrie’s song reflects that. However, the official UN estimate of global refugee numbers is 65 million. The real number is likely to be much bigger. In Kenya, for example, there is a hellish tent city called Dadaab which currently holds over 500,000 refugees from Somalia, Sudan, Darfur, Uganda, Rwanda, Ethiopia and the Congo. It has been there since 1992 but it appears on no map and is effectively an enormous city with no laws, ruled by criminal gangs, Islamic fundamentalists and corrupt officials (excellent new book City of Thorns by Ben Rawlence, Portobello 2016).
A world is in motion. Aid is becoming irrelevant, it is just another way of ignoring the root cause by masking it.
As the lifeguard said when she was criticised for leaving her post after rescuing several people in the same day…”I’m going up river to find out who’s pushing them in”.
Refugee (to the tune of Deportee)
The hope is all gone and the homes are all flattened,
the mortar shells piled in their bomb-crater dumps;
they’re shoving us back to the Syrian border
to pay all our money to walk back again.
Goodbye Afghanistan, goodbye Eritrea,
adios my friends in Sudan and Somalia;
we won’t have our names when we ride the old rust-boat,
all they will call us will be ‘refugees’.
Our fathers and mothers were conned by the traffickers,
they took all the money we’d made in our lives;
our sisters and brothers will work where you need us,
we’ll honour the ones who have fallen and died.
Some of us are illegal, and none of us are wanted,
our chances are gone and we have to move on;
hundreds of miles round the European borders
they cage us like outlaws, like rustlers, like thieves.
We die in the hills, we die in the deserts,
we die in the valleys and die on the plains.
We die ‘neath the trees and we die in the bushes,
both sides of the cruel sea, we die just the same.
We wait and we wait in Greece and in Italy,
whilst warmongers profit and fear eats the soul:
where are all our good friends, all scattered like leaves?
The radio says, “They are just refugees”.
Is this the best way to feed all the people?
Is this the best way to grow all we need?
To fall like dry leaves to rot on the topsoil
and be called by no name except ‘refugees’?