“You have to understand that no one puts their children on a boat unless the water is safer than the land”. These words were spoken by none other than Warsan Shire, a gifted poet and writer whose works mainly touch on the issues of refugees, immigration and war.
Literally, the meaning is quite clear. No one would expose their children to the dangers of the sea unless it is much safer than the land. I usually have great imagination and so as I read this I imagined children on a boat in a sea with strong tides and waves. I am not a parent but this is something I certainly wouldn’t do unless it is really the only way out. We are left to imagine how dangerous the land must be for a parent to resort to this risky and seemingly desperate measure.
These words are found in Warsan`s poem, ‘Home’, which is sort of a lament of an asylum seeker on why she and her people had to escape from their home country. In the immediate context, the poet`s intention is to bring to attention that asylum seekers don’t choose to be in the situation they are in. By saying these words, she wants us to understand that it is not the wish of refugees all over the world to leave their home in the first place but they were forced to due to the dangerous and life-threatening circumstances. We are made to understand that the narrator, who is a refugee longs to go back home but that is impossible as danger lurks there. Her home, like the mouth of a shark, will destroy and devour her. She narrates to us the suffering and tortures that victims of war go through such as having to feed on newspapers due to starvation and being harassed. Had their homes been safe, they would not be living in refugee camps with little or no access to basic needs, having to survive on nothing but donations and be at the mercy of well-wishers, charity organizations and foreign governments. Yet they would rather endure all these as what awaits them back at home is much worse. It is better to be alive and living in lack than wait to be hacked to death. It is far much better to keep your pride aside and beg for food from your neighbor for your children than to watch them starve to death at home. In these camps, there is little or no education available, health and sanitary conditions are pathetic.
When I first came across these words, I didn’t know they belonged to a poem about the plight of asylum seekers but I could relate with them. Think of the land as your comfort zone or something you love and the water as opposite. The truth is many people are in situations they would rather not be in if they had other options. They are in the water only because the land is not an alternative anymore. As human beings we make decisions that are in our best interests as well as of those we love when caught in such tough and daring situations and when our ‘lands’ are burning and getting destroyed, we will run to our ‘safer waters’. Chances are you have been in such situations before, where you had to choose between the raging and risky sea and the much more dangerous warring land. We have all been there before.
News about Africans attempting to get into Europe through the Mediterranean Sea in search for greener pastures has become a norm. We hear about young girls who ran away from their homes to escape early and forced marriages and young men who commit petty crimes because they prefer to live in prisons where the get food and shelter. But have you ever asked yourself what drives people to make such decisions? Many would not be doing the things they are doing if things were better for them.
I am not saying all actions should be supported. For example, I would not advocate for taking away one`s own precious life, no matter the situation. It is easy for us to look down on, blame, judge, discriminate or even get angry and hostile to people who we feel are responsible for their situations. This shouldn’t be the case. Let us open our arms wide, accept, be supportive of people and help where we can. Harper Lee said that you never really understand a person until you consider things from his or her point of view. How right she was.