Friday, December 29, 2006

"You took your children where?"

When I came to the US as a refugee and went to school there, on the first day I met a girl named Ilana, also from Russia. Among a number of other things she told me that she'd been there for 3 years and during those 3 years she'd been on vacation to Russia twice. My jaw dropped. "You've been on what to where?!"

Not that it was really dangerous, mind you. Just scary. Most of all, I just couldn't understand why anyone would want to. Russia had just started allowing former citizens to visit, and I could sort of understand people who have been away for a long time, still have some friends and relatives there and already have some civilized country's citizenship wanting to visit, but somebody who just got out of there and is stateless to boot? The mind boggles.

I can certainly understand the people of the countries that take refugees being more than a bit suspicious when the refugees who have just escaped persecution/discrimination/war in some country are going back there for a vacation just a few months later. Sometimes there is a sensible explanation, the simplest being that many countries that persecute some parts of their population don't bother persecuting foreign tourists, even if those used to be a part of their population fairly recently. This does not explain people who allegedly escaped a war going back for a nice middle-of-a-war vacation, or people moving back there for a while, or sending their children to school there.

If a person has just escaped from a place that they say was dangerous is sending his or her children back there, one can easily conclude that either a) the person does not genuinely believe that the place is dangerous, or b) the person is sending the kids to a place that he/she knows is dangerous.

Whether or not a place is dangerous can be more or less objectively measured and is generally decided by the country who is admitting refugees. Whether or not a person who is escaping from an objectively dangerous place but who does not personally believe that the place is dangerous deserves asylum is a complicated question, and I can see a few pros and cons. But what I really want to know is why people are allowed to take or even send their children to places that are dangerous?

Yeah, children are in many ways parents' property, but in civilized countries there are a lot of things that you are not allowed to do to them. You cannot beat them, you cannot rape them, you cannot even have consentual sex with them until certain age, and you will probably eventually get in trouble if you let them do fairly dangerous things. Hell, you can probably even get in trouble for leaving a toddler alone for a day, which in a properly childproof apartment should be a fairly safe thing to do. So why, pray tell, are people allowed to take their children to countries where we don't deport convicted violent criminals on account of it being too dangerous?

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