13-Year-Old Syrian Refugee Wins UK Poetry Prize

Syrian refugee

13-year-old Syrian refugee, Amineh Abou Kerech, has won the UK’s prestigious Betjeman Poetry Prize. This is a writing competition for children between the ages of 10 and 13. Her poem is titled “Lament for Syria” and explores her longing for her hometown.

Amineh and her family fled the Syrian civil war in 2012. The family lived in Egypt for four years and moved to England last year. Amineh began to write poetry in Egypt as a way to deal with her homesickness.

She wrote her award winning poem in Arabic and English and translated it with her sister’s help and Google

The two sisters are part of a writing workshop run by Iraqi poet Adnan Al-Sayegh. At the workshop, they met the author Kate Clanchy. She has been helping the two with their work at their weekly classes.

The judges of this year’s prize were poet Rachel Rooney, and cartoonist for the Observer, Chris Riddell. They chose Amineh’s poem out of 2,000 entries across the UK and Ireland.

“It has a solemnity to it, but also the profound view that you get through a child’s eyes. It stands up as a poem, in any context.” said Riddell.

Here is the text of her poem:

Lament for Syria

Syrian doves croon above my head

their call cries in my eyes.

I’m trying to design a country

that will go with my poetry

and not get in the way when I’m thinking,

where soldiers don’t walk over my face.

I’m trying to design a country

which will be worthy of me if I’m ever a poet

and make allowances if I burst into tears.

I’m trying to design a City

of Love, Peace, Concord and Virtue,

free of mess, war, wreckage and misery.


Oh Syria, my love

I hear your moaning

in the cries of the doves.

I hear your screaming cry.

I left your land and merciful soil

And your fragrance of jasmine

My wing is broken like your wing.


I am from Syria

From a land where people pick up a discarded piece of bread

So that it does not get trampled on

From a place where a mother teaches her son not to step on an ant at the end of the day.

From a place where a teenager hides his cigarette from his old brother out of respect.

From a place where old ladies would water jasmine trees at dawn.

From the neighbours’ coffee in the morning

From: after you, aunt; as you wish, uncle; with pleasure, sister…

From a place which endured, which waited, which is still waiting for relief.



I will not write poetry for anyone else.


Can anyone teach me

how to make a homeland?

Heartfelt thanks if you can,

heartiest thanks,

from the house-sparrows,

the apple-trees of Syria,

and yours very sincerely.

Also Read: How Shahla Raza is Helping Syrian Refugee Children In Istanbul

Picture Credit: NYT