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  • Writer's pictureTony Frobisher

21 Miles

Updated: Aug 19, 2020

9 refugees including a 3 year old girl were rescued at 4:30am in the middle of the English Channel yesterday.

As more refugees attempt to cross the English Channel in flimsy dinghies, through the busiest shipping lane in the world, the vitriol and lack of empathy is startling..'Send them back, benefits scroungers, taking our jobs, houses, school places, not welcome, shut the gates'...

These people are desperate to risk hypothermia, drowning, the lives of their children, infants, babies, to pay smugglers to get them across the 21 miles from Calais to Dover.

And a chance. Maybe. A chance at life.

How desperate they must be.

Whether right or wrong, these are people who only want a chance at life.

Should they remain in Italy, France, Holland, Turkey? Perhaps. But the reality is that they wish to travel to our country. And will risk everything to come here. Even their lives.

And why? War, conflict, starvation, oppression, authoritarian regimes. Should we try to help? Yes. Should other countries try to help? Naturally. But we should all help and extend a hand to those in desperate circumstances. Whether here, in war torn lands or in imminent danger on the sea.

21 Miles I see the lights Candle flame And we are the moths Wearied, wings beaten By months of relentless flight From the bombs and stench of death And a certainty we would not be alive now Had we stayed. Had we not fled in waves. To be stood on a distant shore Staring at lights. We fled bloodshed and carnage Destruction and devastation. To seek what? Hope, a future, safety or A single smile from our daughter's mouth, That has hung like the saddest crescent moon, Unlit and obscured by clouds of pain. Her smile disappeared in her mute terror Eyes sank into a black eclipse. Eyes that flooded with ceaseless tears, Her grandfather lying on a street. Ruined. Lifeless. A single bullet hole in his back The crisp white thobe he wore with defiant pride Defiled in the dust of war His precious tomatoes, Drops of colour against terminal concrete grey Dropped, spilt, split, scattered Now coloured a deeper red, Bloodied with the final beats of his life. Unseen, the watching sniper's smile, But spared the girl. A boat, not even that. A dinghy, Flimsy, unstable, but our only chance. A chance to die or a chance to live. A chance to submerge in ink black waters. Or a chance to survive. 21 miles they told us. But when the next metre, The next step can be the last you take, Distance becomes nothing. Only time. For the more time you exist, The more you remain alive. The boat bobs and tips, cresting waves on a gathering swell, Threatening to throw us to the mercy Of the depths. The lights glow brighter, The end is still far, Yet distance matters not. Only time. 21 miles. An hour. Two...more. Our daughter sleeps, I know not how. The cold and fear penetrates everything They told us of ships that pass this narrow channel Ships as big as a village, And waves that swallow like a wadi in flood. Watch out for the ships, they said. But in the black of night, you can watch nothing Only trust and pray for an end. Time passes. Ships pass. But we stay afloat Covered in saltwater and vomit Shivering, frozen in winter's breath How many more breaths will we breathe? The lights are painful now. Faces appear in silhouette against torch glare. And raised voices, not angry, urgent, concerned Echoing in the darkness. A language unfamiliar But one we will learn A hand grabs my wife And she is gently lifted to new dreams. Another guides me and wraps me in a blanket of a new life. A man smiles and carries our daughter, For our strength is exhausted, And for the first time, She forgets where she came from, 21 miles ago. And smiles for tomorrow.

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