I’ve chosen these two extracts to demonstrate that the plight of child and young adult refugees is nothing new. Moniza Alvi’s ‘The Camp’ refers to the massive refugee crisis after the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947. The extract from Christine Pullein-Thompson’s Across the Frontier is set just before the Romanian Revolution in 1989 and is about a young boy who has to choose between living in without fear in Britain or remaining in his native country to look after his fragile grandmother. Refugees suffer terrible hardship when they are forced to leave their homes and are often desperate to return as soon as the situation in their country has improved.
11 The Camp by Monza Alvi
A vast parody of a city.
Almost featureless. Teeming, but not bustling.
Children climbed trees to see where the camp ended.
Tents – and patchwork shelters of sheet metal, rags and bamboo.
Her temporary home – precarious yet somehow enduring.
Ludhiana, a lifetime away. Lahore, just out of reach.
Ragged ocean. Oh to sail swiftly to the other side!
Where would they end up? And when? And with what?
From At the Time of Partition By Moniza alvi Bloodaxe Books (2013)
This is an extract from a book-length poem based on a family story set at the time of the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947. Thousands of people were killed in civil unrest and millions were displaced. My grandmother made the crossing from Ludhiana in India to Lahore in the newly created Pakistan, with five of her children. Moniza Alvi
Extract from Across the Frontier by Christine Pullein-Thompson
‘I Want The Truth’
Ion had reached the border. He stood behind a long line of lorries. His own country lay beyond. He could see wooded hills, the dim outline of mountains, acres of yellow stubble, one-storey houses build out of mud bricks; the long straight road to home. He felt like a moth beating against a window trying to get into a lighted room. The ploughed land was being raked by a slow moving peasant. The soldiers were in their watch towers. They looked harmless enough, but were certainly ready to kill. He looked at the lorries and knew that they were his only hope. If only he could get inside one and conceal himself. But most of them were State-owned container lorries. There was no way of getting inside them and no room underneath to hide either. There were hardly any cars yet. It was too early for visitors with the dew still wet on the grass. He sat down on the verge and waited. The drivers chatted and smoked, waiting their turn. He could hear laughter coming from the soldiers. Supposing they were the same ones as were there yesterday? Supposing they recognised him?
The lorries moved on, leaving him alone on the verge. The grass was blackened by petrol fumes and diesel oil. Only a hundred meters away a small girl was watching a flock of geese. What would they do if they caught him? The thought made him tremble. He must not think of it. He would not be caught. There was a lorry parked near him now full of sacks. He could climb inside and hide. The driver had disappeared in the direction of the frontier, leaving the engine running. For a moment Ion’s legs refused to move. Then he bounded across the road and clambered into the lorry. The sacks were empty and smelt of maize. He pulled some over his head and lay down, afraid to breathe. Presently the driver came back laughing. They were all like that, Ion decided, always laughing because they felt so important driving their big trucks, passing the slow-moving oxen, nearly running down old ladies, hooting loudly all the time, frightening horses, leaving a trail of petrol fumes behind them. The lorry was moving now. Ion curled up tightly, his fists clenched so that the white of the knuckles showed. He felt the lorry stop again. Obviously they were through the first barrier, but still on the wrong side. The soldiers were quick. They laughed and made cheerful remarks and then the lorry moved on and now the soldiers spoke ion’s language.
‘What have you got inside?’ they asked letting down the tailboard. ‘How long have you been away?’
Ion held his breath until he felt he would burst.
Why don’t you fold the sacks neatly? Anything could hide under that heap,’ asked a soldier
Ion heard him scrambling into the lorry.
What should I want to bring in? asked the driver. ‘I’m a poor man.’
‘Spies from the West. Records…anything…’ He touched Ion’s legs. ‘And there is something here,’ he said. ‘I was right. I have a feeling for such things. As soon as I saw this truck I knew it contained contraband goods.’
This is an extract from my late mother’s book Across the Frontier, originally published by Andersen Press Ltd Lucy Popescu