Ireland / USA Colum McCann

Colum McCann

What does the term refugee mean to you?

The dream of finding memory in another place.  The dream of belonging to a legitimate elsewhere.

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

War is poverty. So too is political oppression. And the poverty of emotion in relation to war and politics is exactly what should concern us. So, yes, flight from poverty is absolutely legitimate.

And what about flight as a result of environmental problems?

Yes, environmental problems are a form of war and politicial oppression. But perhaps we should stay and fight environmental problems if possible. As Osip Mandlestam says, We must love this poor earth for we have not seen another.

When does one cease to be a refugee?

When one finds a home that feels natural. When one is allowed to remember what you lost.

Is there a natural right to asylum?

Yes, this is a human right.

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

It can be forfeited when you begin to oppress others.

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

Yes, unfortunately. It is limited because our capacity for empathy is so often limited. And there are technical things on the ground that must ensure the safety of every refugee. I wish I could say that the number is unlimited but in a practical sense it doesn't work. A stream works so much better than a flood.

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

You draw the line by examining the lungs of the place where the refugees go: are they breathing properly, or are they expanded to a bursting point? The word that should never exist is "camp." A refugee camp is the wrong way to think about allowing our world to breathe. Nobody should camp forever.

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

I'm from Ireland and I live in New York. Ireland is a pretty tolerant place. And so is New York. The United States is generally a tolerant place despite all the reports. But then again there are people in both place who are brainwashed into thinking that refugee should be spelt in a 19th century format. Racism abounds. So there are some privileged refugees, yes. But every refugee knows that he or she must adapt and destroy the border between privilege and belonging.

Do refugees in your country receive fair treatment?

Is the treatment fair in the proper sense of the word? I doubt it.

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

Of course, yes. But you should ask someone who is in the social security system what they feel about this.

What are the requirements for successful integration?

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

Successful integration means listening. We need to be able to tell stories, but most of all we need to be able to listen to the stories of others.

Do you know any refugees personally?

I feel like I do. And I feel like I should. And while I do know some, there are many more that I should know.

Do you actively support any refugees?

Yes, I donate to various charities.

How will the refugee situation in your country develop

a) over the next two years?

In two years there will be more.

b) over the next two decades?

In ten years there will be even more. This is our new reality.

Can you imagine a world without refugees?

Not really, no. I wish I could but the cynical part of me cannot.

If yes: what does it take?

It would take a universal revolution in the human spirit. That will not happen.

Have you or your family ever been refugee?

I have emigrated, but I have never been an exile, or a refugee. Being a refugee means being forced to flee. I was never forced. I was allowed. Being a refugee is a tragedy leading to potential hope.

Do you think you will ever be a one?

- If yes: why?

I am quite sure that I would like to be a refugee from the reality of a world populated with refugees. So, yes.

- How do you prepare yourself?

I prepare myself by hoping.

- To which country would you take refuge to?

I would take refuge a place truly built by refugees.

How much “home” do you need?*

One home. Which is, then, all other homes. A single place which embraces everywhere.

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