Calais: Poetry in the Jungle

In front of the warehouses, close to the port, where a group of men from Syria had gathered and pitched their tents, a young man scribbled down a poem he had written about his journey and about his experience of trying to reach Britain.

Below the image you will find a translation into English, and a transliteration of the Arabic. The sound recording is of the young man singing his poem, followed by his explanation (in English) of what the story means for him.


Britain! Britain! You’re held in high esteem (litr. You’re on the eye) O, Britain!

O, Lass.  By Allah!  Tell me: What is the situation on lifting the fingerprints in Hungary?

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Woe and woe to me, because of the boat

It almost killed us, that boat.

Our journey has become like a film

all for the sake of Britain.


Woe and woe to me, because of the train

the youth of our group are like fire.

We walked day and night

to enter Britain.


Woe and woe to me, because of Serbia*

we crossed its border as a group*.

We met the best people

and we are happy, god willing, with Britain.

* “صِرب” (Serbians) and “سِرب” (squadron/group, invoking war) rhyme in Arabic but they do not in English.



Breetania breetania ‘al’ain yaa breetania

Yaa bnayya billaahi qooleeli esh wad’ basmati hingaria

Yaa wayli wayli min l-balam        raad iymawwitna hal-balam.

Rihlatna saarat ka-l-filim            kullu kurmaal breetania

Yaa wayli wayli  min l-qitaar     shabaab qroobna mithl l-naar.

Wi-hnaa masheena layl m’a nhaar  hatta nfoot breetania.

Yaa wayli wayli min-s-sirib     ‘abarna hdoodha wa-kinnaa sirib.

Wi-ltaqaina b-‘atyab sha’ib     wi-mkayfeen bi-‘ithn allah ‘a-breetania.

One comment

  1. What a beautifully poignant piece. I wish my fellow Britons and Europeans in general had more understanding and knowledge of the heritage and significance of poetry and song in middle eastern cultures and other cultures too e.g. Bengali, Southern African. In UK we are educated to believe that Shakespeare, Keats etc are the only masters of the form! Hope Mustafa and his friends find peace, security and refuge soon. Tell him there are lots of people here trying to rid this land of Tory govt and their xenophobia.

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