Balkan Route West
By Rhoda Thomas

Running from torture and persecution
Because they’re gay or oppose their government
Shit-scared of bombs, militias, or destitution
Floods and fires, polluted air, or even toxic effluent.

Starved and shivering, chased and beaten
On the run from place to place
No mercy, their possessions taken
Assaulted, hit and spat at - in the face

Living in terror, sleeping under cardboard
Hiding under bridges or in the forest
Detained in camps for begging under a billboard
Disease and no medicine, no safety, no rest.

They were promised a better life, it was all lies and deceit
Snakehead gangs who agreed to smuggle them through
To provide contacts and papers - all counterfeit
How could they know what is true?

39 made it overland to Essex, mostly men planning to work
As the tailgate was opened, a mist of refrigerated air met the night
There was no one alive to jump out of the truck
Only the bodies of people who had lost the fight.

We can only guess at the cold and dehydration
The scramble for air from lack of circulation
Realising they’d never now send money home
Or clear the debt for this grasp at freedom.

No comfort in knowing
They’re now free from slavery
To be worked to death to pay what they’re owing
Family members will now have to show equal bravery.

Whether it’s thousands drowning in the Mediterranean Sea
Or a few mown down on a railway track or killed in a raid
Or now these 39 suffocations on a cargo lorry
It’s Fortress Europe that feeds this murderous trade.

There’s no more need to hide, stay quiet or handle their fear
No more need to silence their hopes and dreams
No more tragic memories, now these too will disappear
It’s left to us to imagine their final screams.

At least these deaths will be recorded on the IOM website
Although as ‘missing migrants’, identities unknown, lost in flight
They’d got to Britain and thought at last they could rest
But now they’re ‘deaths in transit’ on the Balkan Route West.

Rhoda Thomas, 25.10.19

Cockle pickers on the Lancashire coast - 21
Asylum-seekers in a container, in Dover in 2000 - 58
Migrants in an HGV trailer, Purfleet, Essex, 2019 - 39
IOM figure of 33,700 recorded migrant deaths across the globe over the last 6 years, quoted in Guardian 24.10.19. There are many unrecorded deaths

Written for Swansea Stand Up to Racism's vigil for those who suffered such horrific deaths in a refrigerated lorry, calling for safe passage now...