Monday, January 08, 2007

Refugees: young men vs. families

In Finland a lot of people keep wondering why so many refugees are young men, and shouldn't young men stay wherever they are and fight whoever and leave the asylum-seeking to people who really need it and are really in danger, such as women and children.

This (both the critique and the answer) does not hold for all refugees, because a lot of refugees do arrive in family groups, but I find it weird that people don't understand that in a war zone young men are the most endangered group of people. It does not always go that way - sometimes the war is so genocidal that everyone is in equal danger, sometimes a city gets bombed with women and children and old people and men survive somewhere fighting in a trench, but for the most part young men are the people who usually get forcibly drafted by "their own side", and young men are the people who usually get killed by the other side just on suspicion of being combatants or potential combatants, no matter how civilian they might in fact be.

(Mind you, if I were a warlord who cared about the well-being of my own clan, I would kill the rival clan's women and children - provided I could protect my own from retaliation - and make the problem go away in a generation, but apparently in real life real warlords don't look that far ahead. Maybe it's a good thing that I am a software engineer and not a warlord... warlady... whatever.)

Anyway: I am not sure why it comes as a surprise to so many people, but in most wars young men tend to get killed more often than other demographic groups. No, I don't have sources. Pick a few of your favorite wars and look it up for each of them separately.

Mind that this does not mean that we should take all of them in - whether we should or shouldn't depends of who they are and how likely they are to integrate and how many there are, etc. I can certainly see the point of people who say that we should give preference to female refugees because of their lower crime rates. OTOH this would be against the equality of the sexes, of course, and also cause a bigger demographic change than taking an equal amount of men.

One interesting thing is the cultural differences on this subject among different western countries. Finns seem to approve of whole families of refugees more than of young men and to disapprove of leaving family members behind, and so do Americans. In Austria, OTOH, I met a lot of people who specifically disapproved of refugees "dragging old people with them", as they put it, as opposed to first settling down in a new place and then having old people come over with the new home all ready for them. Go figure.

From my own, relatives' and acquaintances' refugee experience I'd say that Finns and Americans are right on this one: leaving people behind is a bad, bad idea and should be done only when there is no choice (that is, it can be done if they slow everyone down so much that nobody gets away, or if they refuse to go). Leaving them behind in hope that the people who ran first would get things arranged and make the transition easier for the ones who come later has not worked well for most people I knew who've done it.

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