a Number, a Name

A poem from two different perspectives about refugees who are lost in the numbers, currently living in a camp where they are usually asked for their tent / isobox  number when on the receiving end of food, hygiene items and such. I’ve tried to paint the picture from a camp resident and a volunteer (who are wearing name tags).


a number, I have a name

reduced to ones and zero

because of where I came from

so much I lost in the stats

I am a number, I had a house

now I have a number

isolated in a box

boxed in between isos

so many strangers, in this place

for 12 months, I am going crazy

plucking my beard

lining up twice a day, used to be three

they recognise my face, do not ask my name

I am not myself, say the number

been doing this for ages

not much to do beside sleep and eat

a community that’s gated

changes made

how many adults, children & babies

how can they get it wrong

guess this one is new

frustrated but still say thank you


sit at a table, ask the number

daily routine, bring the key

not that important, part of our duty

food is not that good

still try to sell it to everyone

waste, too and so much, too less

our list a mess

organisations don’t share

people lie and take

faced with so many

we should recognise faces

more difficult than it sounds

fool me once, I get it

fool me twice, I should know better

sorry it was picked up

sorry no more juice, bad luck

a community yet not one

people the victims

we apologise when we see that look in their eyes

I know the number of a few, pick up together too

most know my name, can’t say the same

I smile, but feel like I’ve treated you inhumane



by Jelle Wassenaar- Issues Without Borders member, former volunteer in a refugee camp



A poem about the complicated world of helping people (as a volunteer) and how one can struggle with emotions as you enjoy your time, but also questioning whether you came with the right intentions and or if your actions do more harm than good. I also touch on the constant depression (trauma) and hopelessness that is present underneath the surface for the people you are working with, even if they seem content or happy.


One of the best times of my life

and the worst of theirs

the time not in their possession even

lost in the wind that blew

turned everything upside down

they smiled while I shed tears

orange vests in numbers

some sought that thrill

an adventure or a trip

how lucky we are

just purchase your wings

ability to fly

identity unknown

fill in some papers to prove you are alive

do they not exist?

behind the label there is nothing of the sort

came along for the ride

said goodbye, but not really

stuck between worlds

I do not understand

stuck between words

nothing I can say

yet there we all are

speaking a language we know

is it enough?

the future tells a story of the past

good intentions do not predict

a positive outcome for you perhaps

who did you come here for? photographs

you go home richer questioning why

there is power in gratitude

some of the best times of whose lives

mine, ours, yours, theirs,

some of the worst

or is it? selfishly partly

mind yourself

happiness in misery

depression in laughter

there are so many sides

yin yang plus minus

try to keep a balance

life, the best or the worst

still undecided


By Jelle Wassenaar, Issues Without Borders Members, volunteer in a refugee camp


A poem I wrote while in Greece about the trip people make from Turkey via Farmakonisi – a military island – to Leros.


Black sea, black ocean

mind racing, wheels in motion

a screeching voice of the blowing wind

it’s loud and scary

beginning till the end


darkness surrounds me

am I blind, I cannot see

feel the drops of rain

so cold together

sharing the pain


the uncertainty, the fear

what is coming

mind numbing

it will all disappear


the cold is now wet

the screams coming from man

are we there yet

no answer on demand


survive, swim

looking at others

the outlook is bleak

alive, but grim


stumble upon rocks

found a treasure

what happens next

beyond our measure


flashlights, barks

code words cannot be cracked

a shot, light sparks

we all move back


women, children

saw them before

where are they now

see them no more?


rest on spikes

but feel numb

so cold, waiting

twisting my thumbs


salt water for days, drinking

time passing by pray, thinking

another boat crosses, sinking

chances of survival, shrinking


a sudden order after waiting

get on the big ship

where are we going, it’s dark

another scary long trip


Finally reach land

greeted by man

a new beginning

where does it end?


by Jelle Wassenaar- Issues Without Borders member, former volunteer in a refugee camp

IWB for Refugees: AEGEE European Planning Meeting and to the next phase

Some of the best experiences come from bringing people together, sharing ideas, being challenged by difficult questions. Therefore, when Issues without Borders (IWB) was invited to presents its expertise on the issue of migration at AEGEE’s annual European Planning Meeting that was held in the Netherlands, I was excited to attend and discuss our project. IWB is conducting a detailed analysis on asylum procedure and refugee law in the EU member states for almost a year now and I participated as a guest speaker. I also had the pleasure of being part of the audience and listen to other presentations and hear different points of view and feel the pulse of the debate.

The topic of the 2016 session “Refugees in Europe – Europe ‘vs.’ the rest: change of perspective?” – a subject that is actually the main focus of the IWB organization

I attended the event for the two discussion panels, the first one as part of the audience and the second as a guest speaker and IWB representative.

# Panel 1: Europe vs “the rest”: do we need the others to define ourselves?

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The building of fences amid the refugee crisis has not only brought in physical borders, but also mental ones. The panel discussion aimed to reflect on the meaning of considering ourselves as European citizens and how it affects the relations of Europe to the rest of the world, especially the refugees who want to come to Europe. How can the reactions of different European countries be understood, in regards to the ‘other’? Are we building a ‘fortress Europe’ also in terms of European identity and values?

# Panel 2: Finding solutions to the current migration challenges – is there still space for solidarity in Europe?

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The aim of the panel was to provide a space for reflection on the consequences that the current migration crisis in several levels; from the perspective of European identity and values, of freedom of movement, of human rights, and economy and growth. From a different perspective, each one of the speakers had to reflect on three questions: 1) is there still space for solidarity in Europe?, 2) how can the situation look like in the future?, and 3) will the current migration influx bring a change of perspective in the current European values?

I discussed about Issues without Borders, the core values we stand for, and about the IWB for Refugees and the research we conduct in the EU member states through our volunteer members.  I gave an overview on how the project is an analysis on each EU member state legislation on refugee law and whether it is in line with international law, on how the media present the situation, and on how the refugees themselves experience the process. I underlined the fact that we, as members of our societies can and have to be pro-active and be the ones that create the change we want to see.

The debate was lively, we discussed the effect of the media and how hate speech can be counteracted, on how can there be more dialogue between citizens and their governments. We talked about the work that can be done at the micro level by each individual and its impact, and at a macro level, be it as a community, a state or as European Union. I have really enjoyed learning more about the work of the Peace and Justice Foundation, and the Kiron University that offers free studies to the refugees. It is always exciting to see the many ways in which people get involved and take initiative in different projects they believe in.

Next phase: IWB citizens’ initiative

The research we have been conducting for the past few months is ready to be published, and I am excited for the next phase in the “IWB for Refugees”. We will analyse the results from our 28 states’ reports and draft a European citizens’ initiative that will address concrete, long term solution for the “refugee crisis.”

The following period, 31 March-30 June will be dedicated to a close study of the EU state reports and for drafting the “IWB for Refugees” petition. This legislative initiative will be sent in three distinct directions:

  • At the national level in every EU state
  • At the European Parliament
  • It will be registered at the European Commission.

Together with our partners “The Development Researchers”, “Citizens Right Watch”, “Global Magazine”, “AEEGEE Europe, and supporters from the Copenhagen University, Vilnius University, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and other partners, we will gather the 1,000,000 signatures necessary for the initiative to be successful.

With its members and collaborators, IWB aims at being part of the implementation of the European Directive at the national level in each member state.