Ahmad al-Mouhmad has called himself “Leo” ever since a volunteer in Souda refugee camp said he looked like Leonardo diCaprio. Handsome, with beard, pony-tail and scorpion tattoo, he reclines outside his tent and offers tea to all comers, or walks topless on the beach after swimming. The irony is cruel and repetitive. As a young Syrian man — a former visual merchandiser for several high-end fashion brands in Kuwait, until his visa expired — he has been stuck for months now on the Greek island of Chios, like so many others at Europe’s borders.
It is not for a volunteer to speak on behalf of one going through the experience of a refugee, just as it is not for a translator to speak for the writer of an original piece. But it is impossible not to point out Europe’s denial of humanity. As people wait months for their “eligibility” interview, only to be told when the date finally arrives that it is has been shifted, or as they wait months in expectation of family reunion, to be told that their application is invalid and they will be deported; as children draw love-hearts endlessly on the walls of the “containers” they sleep in, or watch yet another fight break out under the stress of the camp; as young men like Leo produce, despite everything, expressions of creativity and emotion to be posted on social media, Europe’s denial of what cannot be denied becomes circular and self-enclosed, itself inhuman.
That is one of the multiple paradoxes expressed by ‘Do not love a refugee’. The poem must speak for itself. But I might add one detail that might reflect its hope and its naivety. As I worked with Leo outside his tent to translate his poem, a young boy came over and greeted each of us in turn with a kiss. He had arrived recently on the island, and Leo was one of those who’d taken care of him with small gifts of food, even photos from a polaroid camera he’d acquired. “Do you know how much I love you?” said the boy as Leo prepared tea for him. “I love you from here—” he indicated the hill rising behind Chios town, “to there—” and he pointed to Turkey, just 8 miles across the water, a gesture innocent of borders that revealed as arbitrary Europe’s inhumanity, and, in a different way, so too love itself.