Algeria / France Yasmina Khadra

Yasmina Khadra
Photo: E. Robert-Espalieu

What does the term refugee mean to you?

A lost soul.

Is flight from poverty less legitimate than flight from war or political oppression?

Whoever flees poverty seeks fortune, whoever flees war only seeks to live.

And what about flight as a result of environmental problems?

We never run away from whatever inevitably catches up with us. The harm that has been done to nature will seal our fate one day or another.

When does one cease to be a refugee?

When the others stop pitying him or being hostile to him.

Is there a natural right to asylum?

If this is not a right, it is a duty for those who welcome refugees.

If yes: is this right unconditional, or can it be forfeited?

Whenever you assist a person in distress or in danger, you do not lay down conditions.

Do you think that the number of refugees a society can absorb is limited?

The only limits of solidarity are its resources.

Are there privileged refugees in your country, i.e. refugees that are more welcome than others? If yes: why?

There are many African and Arab refugees; the African refugees flee poverty and the Arab refugees flee the war raging in Iraq and Syria. With few exceptions, they are all left to themselves. A regime that does not care for its own citizens cannot develop a conclusive policy for refugees. In Algeria, the refugees owe their survival not to the State but to the generosity of the population. I do not think there is a selective support among Algerians. Religion forbids it. All people in distress are equal. However, the Arab refugees are less in difficulty than the African ones who are sometimes repatriated. This is not the case for the Syrians, while some of them, thanks to the language and to the pan-Arabist fraternal spirit, become integrated faster.

Do refugees in your country receive fair treatment?

In Algeria, there are neither adequate structures nor a clear state policy regarding the treatment of the refugees by the Government. They live from day to day, the most resourceful ones find work, the weakest ones engage in begging. I cannot but acknowledge the spirit of solidarity of the Algerian people.

Would cuts in the social security system in your country be acceptable to you if they were to facilitate the absorption of more refugees?

Social restrictions are aberrations. A refugee is a full-fledged human being, and must be treated like any other citizen. The history of humanity is the story of Exodus. Human beings are nothing but pollen traveling through the ages and lands in order to fertilize civilizations. No one on earth may claim to be an authentic indigenous. We are nothing but potential nomads. If it is not famine or natural disasters driving us to other places in order to rebuild ourselves, it is war, revolutions and the madness of men who force us to opt for other drop-off points. It is no coincidence that the exile is affiliated to a second chance.

What are the requirements for successful integration?

Of course.

- on the part of the refugees?

A refugee usually arrives in a land alien to him. He brings with him a mentality and  an ancient culture that may be inconsistent with the host country.  It is up to the refugee to adapt to his new points of reference. He is not obliged to give up on his traditions, but out of gratitude he should respect the laws of his adopting society.

- on the part of the citizens of the host country?

It is quite legitimate to require from the refugees compliance with laws and culture of the host country. To quote a saying:  "Make yourself at home without forgetting that you are at mine".

Do you know any refugees personally?

I happen to meet some as part of my writing profession. I have visited African refugee camps when I was still in uniform. However, that does not mean much. I have neither the means nor the ability to do anything.

Do you actively support any refugees?

Except for some media interventions, which will remain whistling in the wind, I have done nothing concrete. I would like to make myself useful, but the relevant organizations do not seek my help.

How will the refugee situation in your country develop

a) over the next two years?

Since my country does not have a clear policy regarding refugees, I cannot predict anything.

b) over the next two decades?

I hope that by then, the world will have understood that the only way to avoid mass emigration is to learn to share, to have the countries help each other and to prevent wars. After we understand that peace and stability are the real keys to reach maturity and to claim happiness, there will be only commercial travelers, tourists and fabulous explorers on the roads.

Can you imagine a world without refugees?

This world would be vital for everyone. It would prove that humanity has reached adulthood, that life has regained its preciousness, that good triumphed over evil and that, from now on, conscience replaces stupidity and misunderstanding.

If yes: what does it take?

Understand that happiness is not complete until it is shared. Putting the individual at the center of all interests and making globalization not a financial trap but a healthy rally around a common ideal: peace.

Have you or your family ever been refugee?

The true exile of a writer is his text. As an individual, I enrich myself from all meetings and from all   cultures. My children have lived in Mexico, France, Algeria, and this helps them adapt anywhere and get knowledge. My children will never be racist or hostile to others. They know how to love a saint from each religion and a dance step from any folklore. This is the only way to fully enjoy life.

Do you think you will ever be a one?

- If yes: why?

Anyone could find himself on the road in order to escape a disaster or danger. Whether you are  a king or a dustman, powerful or fragile, famous or unknown, you are not immune to events you do not understand.

- How do you prepare yourself?

I do not know. What is a grain of sand in the storm? Misfortune is unpredictable.

- To which country would you take refuge to?

Any country where I would not have to hide like a plague-stricken person.

How much “home” do you need?*

A single one would be enough if I could act to preserve it by giving the best of myself and educating my children to righteousness and to beautiful and healthy ambition that would make them good citizens.

*This question was taken from Max Frisch’s questionnaire concerning “heimat”.