Refugees are Dialectical Beings: Part Two 

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


To the ones who are en route, the ones whose stomachs are compasses and whose compasses are manifestos of nothing…

Refugees are dialectical beings


The aridity of a camp presupposes the aridity of life.

The concrete is barely permanence. If you pay attention you will see the cracks in their souls.

At the farthest point in life – the point of no return – dialects become the superfluous of the body.


Camp (n): a residue in the shape of a crescent made of skin and nothing.


Time, when killed, has no mourners, only killers.

The camp has its own signature.

What it signs and countersigns is never the permanent.

The camp is what remains when the meadows of the instant desert us.

The foot without a trace is a god.

Those who are arriving at the threshold are not one of us. It will take them time to know who they are…

Nothing is as old as the archive that is yet to be written.

The archive is always written in the future. (After Derrida)

Were I in possession of an archive, I would bury it by my side and let it overgrow, upon my skin and inside my pores.

The enmity in the archive is the enmity of the intimate. By detailing the body, the archive loses its sight.


I am absent or deemed absent. The fingers that I am holding before you, in your hand – a sullen hand – are mine and nothing else.

I wish it were possible to write the camp without the self.

In the camp, we surrender the meaning of the camp in advance.

The camp is the impossible martyr attributed to the meaning of ‘dying for’.

In the camp, going to the cemetery is going to the camp and going to the camp is going to the cemetery.

In Baddawi, reaching the camp only occurs through the cemetery.

Is the cemetery not another home, host and God?


In entering the camp, time becomes suspended between dialects.

The dialect that survives is never a dialect.

The dialectical subtleties in the camp are also called silence.

For the dialect to become an archive, no utterance should be uttered.

Who is the creator of dialects? Whose tongue is the shibboleth?

The dialect is a spear of noises.

Ontologically, the dialect is a being in the shape of a knife.

Only dialects can spot the silent Other.


My cousins in Nahr Al-Bared have always defended their dialect to the extent of preserving it in their fists.

I used to be asked to raise my voice whenever I opened my mouth. As if voices were ethereal creatures with an ability to rise.

Voices are the earthliest of creatures. Not only do they wreak havoc on earth, they remain silent in death.

What is it that makes a dialect a knife?

Is the dialect not a mythology of the silent?

To exist in the singular means the death of the Other.

‘Dialects’ is not a plural; it is the anomaly of a condition that should have never been one.


A ladder to God is the green in the cemetery. 


In the camp, deserting the camp means summoning the certainty of the certainty. To this day, nobody has ever managed not to return.

Only in the camp do dialects outlive their people.

The untranslatability of the camp… We write it on parchments of time evermore, so it remains intact as a spectre when it is no more.  

The dialect that survives on its own is that of the dead.

Dialects when uttered become spectres of time.

For us to hear ourselves we sign the covenant of the dialect.

A dialect always has a face – disfigured, a face nonetheless.

Where is the mouth in the testimony?

Those who come to us are never themselves in the same way we are never ourselves. When dialects descend upon the camp, the camp wails and ululates at the same time. In the presence of dialects, nobody knows what to do but to listen to the penetrating noise of the coming…

Is the dialect not the unavowable Other?

Refugees are dialectical beings.


Listen to Yousif reading this poem here:


Read Part One – ‘Writing the camp-archive’ – here

You can also read more of Yousif’s poems, and hear a selection of his readings, by visiting our creative archive.

Visit our latest blog series page here for other pieces on representation and displacement. 

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


  1. I didn’t understand everything but what I did grasp I liked the message of.
    (Is this even an English sentence? Sounds wrong^^)


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