Czech Republic Petra Hulovà

Petra Hulovà
Photo: © Literary Agency Pluh

What does the term refugee mean to you?

When debating the issue of refugees, we should stick to a common, ‘personal’ definition, as ‘what does the term mean to me’ is worthless, because in order to be able to face this new European challenge we need a common ground of understanding. Without it we are not only unable to deal with respective difficulties but we aren´t even able to have a discussion about them. We should stick to what we already have: the definition by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights broadened by the Refugee Convention and the Protocol. These claim that refugees are people who are outside their country of citizenship, because they have well-founded grounds for fear of persecution because of their race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, and are unable to obtain sanctuary in their home country or, owing to such fear, are unwilling to avail themselves of the protection of that country.

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

What does the term ‘legitimacy’ imply? If that means intensity of a motivation to leave one´s home country, a legitimacy to claim a similarly difficult condition as persecuted ones, then yes. In that sense under certain circumstances poverty can be perceived as even more devastating than a persecution. Persecution with at the same time enough food to live on might be actually more liveable than extreme hunger with no persecution at all. However, if the ‘legitimacy’ of poverty implies a right to be unconditionally received in Europe, then I have to reply ‘no’ with all awareness of the tragic and dehumanising consequences.  Poverty as a sole reason should not automatically enable one to be unconditionally received in the EU, for there are unfortunately not unlimited resources to stick to such a practice unreservedly.

And what about flight as a result of environmental problems?

As the only unconditional reasons for a refugee status I would stick to a persecution as defined above. The following question is rather slightly more demanding: do we even have resources to receive all persecuted people in order to grant all of them an unconditional reception? Since I perceive this basic question being debatable in the long term, I would hardly advocate institutionally enlarging the possible grounds for acceptance of environmental or other reasons. If an institutionalization of additional reasons for asylum would not just serve as a ‘sign of good will and respect for humanity’, thus not only as a mere proclamation with limited validity but as something which should be taken seriously, we first of all should resolve the following questions:  what are our limits and how to realize them with a maximum helpfulness to those in need? Claiming that I don´t intend to diminish the grief of those stricken by environmental problems, I only say that with limited resources we can afford to practice our humanistic ideals only within our limits or we destabilize the EU with unpredictable consequences. That would mean not only to endanger the European community but an inability to guarantee our obligation of help to those refugees who were already accepted before.

When does one cease to be a refugee?

As soon as the situation in the home country improves. The status of refugee should be also forfeited from those who broke the law in their host country. What we urgently need are tools for evaluation of the situation in the refugee´s country that would enable us to claim it sufficiently safe for homecoming.

Is there a natural right to asylum?

Since the trickiness of the refugee crisis arises from the clash between our ideals of humanity which is limitless by definition and our limited resources, I perceive the ‘natural’ right for asylum as the one we´ve already signed up to: the right for asylum for those under persecution.

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

Reasons for cancellation or refusal of the status of refugee or of not giving one can be caused by the limited resources of the host territory or illegal activities of the refugee including a grounded suspicion of a security threat.

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

Yes and no. Yes – limited - if we want to keep the society more or less functioning as we know it, yes limited even if we are open to major changes in its structure. No, it´s limitless if we define society as everything that involves a group of people living together. If we alter our perception of society, then the capacity of society becomes limitless. It might then become a cradle of a different kind of refugee though, but that would not necessarily take away the characteristics of society, or would it? It would however if we take into consideration one of the traditional conditions of society: a common interest.

If yes: where do you draw the line, and why?

The line depends on the economic situation of the country and the openness of the local population. Political representation shall expand the often insufficient willingness of its population to share: the necessity to help exists but cannot go against the will of the population completely. In the long term it results in the mistrust of people in their representation which leads to the rise of popularity of extremists to the weakening of democratic principles and the radicalization of the whole society. To walk the fine line thus means not only to balance humanism with available resources but also consideration towards the public. It is a matter of honest communication, education and respect to those who are not xenophobic by definition but fearful of something they haven´t experienced before.

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

Refugees with Christian background are more welcomed than Muslim refugees. Czechs believe Christian refugees are better prepared to assimilate in Czech culture and function within the rules of Czech society.

Do refugees in your country receive fair treatment?

The Czech Republic has very few refugees – far less than we could accept. I believe that in terms of official procedures the treatment is fair but in terms of how refugees are accepted by Czechs, there are prejudices.

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

In general ‘no’, but it depends on a particular policy.

What are the requirements for successful integration?

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

On the part of refugees it is: a will to work, learn the local language and obey the law, citizens are obliged to get rid of ungrounded prejudices and treat newcomers as much as individuals and not a homogenous group that is easy to label.

Do you know any refugees personally?

No.

Do you actively support any refugees?

No.

How will the refugee situation in your country develop

a) over the next two years?
b) over the next two decades?

That can be hardly foreseen. With an improvement of the situation in EU the acute panic has faded away. I believe Czech homogenous society will be able to open up and learn how to embrace difference with no fear. In the long term, the experience of mutual co-living will be crucial. Its character will determine the future situation.

Can you imagine a world without refugees?

As a writer I can imagine anything. I can hardly imagine it otherwise.

If yes: what does it take?

If we want to raise the chance of making it happen we should keep in mind the crucial role of European and Western foreign- and business policy. Our business and policy in the home countries of refugees are often part of the reason, or possibly sometimes one of the main reasons, of the aggravating situation there. We have to accept the responsibility and  consider EU policy and encroaching business behaviour both as part of the problem and part of the solution.

Have you or your family ever been refugee?

No.

Do you think you will ever be a one?

I might become one in case there is a war in Europe or the political regime in the region turns unbearable. Since I believe in the power and mechanism of a self-fulfilling prophecy, I don´t want to start preparing, not even in my mind. However, in my thoughts I couldn´t prevent myself from thinking about it, yet I don´t have any clear plan. If possible I would probably fly to the US, where I have acquaintances.

How much “home” do you need?*

My home consists of my kids and my language. I do feel connected to my country and would miss it though. However I find a lot of truth in one Latin proverb: Omnia mea mecum porto (all that´s mine I carry with me).

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