Monday, July 30, 2007

Temporary refugees, permanent trouble

Sometime this spring I saw a demonstration against B-status residence permits. The demonstration included a few hundred people, most of them Middle-Eastern or African-looking, and a large minority looking like Sosialistiliitto members. (I tend to call these "young people in Che t-shirts", although not all of them are young and not all of them have Che t-shirts).

They were saying that B-status, at least for asylum seekers (I have never seen any activists care about B-status workers), is a bad thing. Strangely enough I agree, although they and I might have radically different idea of what can be done to these people instead of giving them the B-status.

In fact, I don't know whether my criteria for granting political asylum or refugee status would be looser or tighter than the criteria the Finnish authorities are using now, but that's not the point. I just think that temporary refugees in general are nothing but trouble. Just let them in. Or kick them out.

In general the process of refugee admissions is way too obsessed with the questions of "are those real refugees and are they really persecuted and are these guys more or less persecuted that those guys", with a bit of "oh my god we have to take all the persecuted people in". No, you don't. Persecuted people are usually in very plentiful supply, whereas money, space, the goodwill of the local population and other resources needed to admit refugees are rather limited.

All countries that admit refugees obviously look out for their own interests too, but I think this should be done openly, and flexibly. We should be able to say "yes, you are really persecuted, but we are totally out of money for this year, so sorry, try some other country". We should be able to say "yes, you are really persecuted, but considering that you have been persecuted all over the Middle East for being an Islamic exremist we are certainly not gonna let you in, and nobody else in their right mind would either". Just let's not say "yeah, Taliban killed half of the teachers and a few students in your daughter's school and is promising to kill the rest together with their parents, but we don't think you are really persecuted". That's simply embarassing.

We (as in "the civilized world") don't have resources to admit all the refugees in the world. You know it, I know it, the Powers That Be know it, the refugees know it. There is no point in pretending.

There are ways to raise more resources but this won't be enough. You can raise more money by telling a refugee organization and all the other interested parties: "we don't have money to admit more than x of your countrymen, but if you raise n euros we can admit m more people (I am sure Sosialistiliitto will be first in line to donate). You can also raise more local goodwill by keeping (and, if need should arise, kicking) the criminals out and making the existing refugees find some work. But in the end, most of the people who need asylum will never find it. Live with it (and look who is talking).

But I digress. I meant to talk about the temporary refugees and undesirability thereof. No offense to the people who escape some clearly very temporary problem right across the border and come back, this is not about you.

Basically, most refugees need permanent resettlement (yes, I know I've mentioned this before). When you resettle refugees in your country they might be trouble or might become perfectly normal citizens, depending (mostly) on how well you have chosen them. When you take in "temporary" refugees you get permanent trouble for sure. They won't integrate and they won't go away.

Getting your ass kicked out of your home country or having to run away from there is nothing new. Yeah, I know that it is neither pleasant nor fair, but it happens and people usually recover from it if they find a new home. 15-20 million people got permanently kicked out of their homes in connection with the partition of the Indian subcontinent. 12 million Germans got kicked out of the Eastern Europe after WWII, and that's not counting the several million that ran away from the East Germany to the West. 400 thousand Finns got kicked out of Carelia. Countless Jews got kicked out of or escaped from much everywhere during the last century, some of them several times (the Holocaust-unrelated events were Soviet Union as such, as far as anyone could escape from there, Poland who kicked almost all its Jews out in the late sixties, Arab countries who also kicked almost all their Jews (700 thousand or so) in the late sixties, and Iran). Shit happens.

Most people sort of know how to go on when it does. They find a new job, a new home, a new life. They might feel wronged, and often rightly so, and if they think they can milk some money out of the old enemy they will do so, but they don't try to roll back the transaction, so to say. They don't want to attack Russia in order to get Carelia back. They don't demand a right of return to Pakistan or to Libya (heh, what a thought). They don't even return to Poland or Czech Republic in spite of the fact that now they have the opportunity in the EU.

That's what the refugee experience is supposed to be about. Found a new place, got a new life.

But then there are the people who never do that, or never get to do that. Sometimes they did not find a new place that would take them, sometimes they don't want to. Sometimes they do find a place that lets them settle down and then mistake their new home for a convenient military base to attack the old enemy from, which sometimes causes them to lose that new home fairly quickly.

These people are trouble. They don't find jobs. They don't learn the language. At best they are a burden. At worst they get their new country in very serious trouble (look up Black September). And no, they don't go back, even when they would really like to.

Yet somehow, they find understanding in the West. In fact quite a lot of people (both on the right and on the left) exhibit more approval for a refugee who says that he wants to "go home as soon as it is possible and fight for his country" than for a refugee who says "bugger, my country is totally fucked, I'd like to learn a bit of Finnish and sign up for a bus driving course". Some of the people who wouldn't even dream of encouraging Finns to attack Russia in order to get Carelia back or Germans to demand the right of return to Poland would easily encourage Somalis to attack whoever is ruling their country this week, or encourage Palestinians to demand the right of return to Israel.

In order to resettle a refugee successfully you need the good will of both sides, otherwise it won't work. No matter how well you try, there will be a number of those "temporary people" in any refugee population. Even among the ex-Soviets in the US, who have generally resettled quite well, you sometimes see the people who say that they hate America and would like to go back to Russia ASAP and fix it to their liking, and then they will be welcomed on the Red Square on a white horse, etc. My aunt hangs out with one of those. Last time I'd seen him it was in Fenway park and not on the Red Square, but if any of you watch TV news and see a seventyish guy on a white horse on the Red Square, please do tell...

(The good thing about the US is that no matter how you would like to go back and fix your own country, or to sit on your ass whining about how much you'd like to fix your country, eventually the welfare runs out, and you have to find a job, after which you only get to whine part-time. And then one thing leads to another, and at some point you realize that that you dream of a summer cottage on Cape Cod more often than you dream of conquering Russia. To whine full-time you have to be a senior citizen.)

Refugee resettlement is a risk. No matter how much you try to offer them a new home, if you don't choose your refugees well you might have real trouble. If you offer refugees a temporary home you are gonna have trouble for sure, no matter how well you choose them.

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