To Move Between and Often Within

in Migration and Society
Theophilus Kwek Independent Writer

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In February 2017, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) released a damning report of human rights abuses perpetrated against the Rohingya. The report was based on interviews with Rohingya fleeing from Myanmar since 9 October 2016, with research continuing up to January 2017. Many recounted personal experiences of violence and physical, life-threatening harm. The report received some attention among humanitarian agencies (many of which have been banned from accessing Rakhine state) but was largely ignored by the international press. Headlines that week focused on the Trump administration’s attempts to defend its travel ban. This poem contains fragments and modifications of the report. It is not an attempt to supplant the voices of those at the heart of the report, but—by stripping down its language—an attempt to make (and mend) our ways of reading (and hearing) their stories.

All titles (in bold), and some lines in the poem are taken directly from the Flash Report of the OHCHR’s Mission to Bangladesh, ‘Interviews with Rohingyas Fleeing from Myanmar since 9 October 2016’, published on 3 February, 2017 and available at

To move1 between, and often within

1. Go in a specified direction
or manner, change position; Alter
the space, or shape of; Change one’s place
of residence or work; (Of a player)
change the position of a piece in a board game;

townships, procedures to secure2 travel

Depart. 2. (Of a door) Make hard to open,
fasten, or lock; Protect against threats,
make safe; Succeed in obtaining, especially
with difficulty; Fix (something)
so that it cannot be moved or lost.

are onerous and time3-consuming.

3. A moment or definite portion
of time allotted; The appropriate or
expected time, in particular of childbirth
or death; The indefinite continued
progress of existence; A prison sentence;

Failure to comply4 with requirements

An instance or occasion. 4. To act
in accordance with a wish or command;
Meet specified standards; Late 16th Century
from Latin complere, fill up, fulfil
(the original sense was “accomplish,”

can result in arrest5 and prosecution.

Hence “oblige” or “obey”). 5. Seize
by legal authority; Detain; Stop or check
(a process, a disease); A sudden cessation
of movement; To attract attention (as in,
“the stillness of the place arrested her”).

Several victims mentioned


, the destruction of property and the displacement of 140,000

people due to shooting at close range

due to stabbing by knife

due to beating by the security forces

by five army officers in front of our eyes

of the foetus

due to random firing

and her two sisters killed

[…] Maybe

  they held each other tight, that could be why they seemed to be hugging in there, my brother said.

Families may have had members killed,

Your pen wavers on the stroke, severs
beaten, raped, and / or taken away
“and” from “or.” After calamity, a small
to an unknown location, while at the same time
chance, a breath – such sweet distance, in
their homes were burned and looted. For most
this language of yours. You tell me
interviewees, separation
it is a good and merciful tongue.
from their families is a major concern.
In our own it never rains, but pours.

My Father

stood up, which is when a grenade came listen: here the things I
was killed at the same time as I was shot remember. the armed
who was also living with me men were wearing green uniforms,
a prayer leader some with plain patterned pants, and some with
was slaughtered with a knife a kind of camouflage pattern, like
was called out from all of us women and children leaves. They
totally burned, together with three others were the same color
paid the army up to 1 million kyat for my release as helicopters.

Have crossed the border pictured below

My country sells its islands whole.  This led
My country lets its cities grow. to many
My country takes care of your soul.  Families
My country keeps your taxes low. Moving
My country holds its secrets close. from village
My country builds above the sea. to village
My country makes your emperor’s clothes.  and
My country lets your country be. Ultimately
My country has its own to feed. leaving
My country is your country’s womb.   the country
My country knows it has no need.
My country says it has no room.  for safety.

Contributor Notes

THEOPHILUS KWEK is a writer and researcher based in Singapore. He has published four volumes of poetry, most recently The First Five Storms, which won the New Poets’ Prize in 2016. His poems, translations, and essays have appeared in The Guardian, Times Literary Supplement, Irish Examiner, Mekong Review, and The London Magazine. He presently serves as Co-Editor of Oxford Poetry and The Kindling.

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