Refugees are Dialectical Beings: Part One

by Yousif M. Qasmiyeh, University of Oxford and Refugee Hosts Writer in Residence 


The camp is a passing human, a book, a manuscript, an archive… Bury it; smother it with its own dust, so it might return as a holy text devoid of intentions. 

Writing the camp-archive


Only refugees can forever write the archive.

The camp owns the archive, not God.

For the archive not to fall apart, it weds the camp unceremoniously.

The question of a camp-archive is also the question of the camp’s survival beyond speech.

Circumcising the body can indicate the survival of the place.

Blessed are the pending places that are called camps.


My father, who passed his stick on to me, lied to us all: I slaughtered your brother so you would grow sane and sound.

My mother, always with the same knife, cuts herself and the vegetables.

The eyes which live long are the ones whose sight is contingent upon the unseen.


God’s past is the road to the camp’s archive.

We strangle it, from its loose ends, so we can breathe its air.

Privileging death in the camp is the sacral of the refugee body.

Without its death, the archive will never exist.

In whose name is the camp a place?

It is the truth and nothing else that for the camp to survive it must kill itself.


The transience of the face in a place where faces are bare signs of flesh can gather the intransience of the trace therein in its multiple and untraced forms.

The unseen – that is the field that is there despite the eye – can only be seen by the hand. After all, the hand and not the eye, is the intimate part.

The tense in our bones – the one that emerged in no time, but with the desire to be time – will always be ahead of us.


Green in the camp only belongs to the cemetery.

The veiled women crying at the grave are my mother and my sisters. Once, my mother wanted to bring the grave home with her.

In the solemnity of the place, faces fall like depleted birds.

In belonging to the camp, senses premeditate their senses.



Listen to Yousif reading his poem here:

Read Part Two here.

You can read, and listen to, more of Yousif’s poetry for Refugee Hosts here

Visit other pieces in our latest blog series on Representation and Displacement here

Featured image: Everyday life in the alleyways of Baddawi camp. (c) E. Fiddian-Qasmiyeh. Jan. 2017.


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