Alejandro Grimson

Alejandro Grimson
Photo: Alejandro Grimson

What does the term refugee mean to you?

On the roads for climbing the Andes Cordillera by foot, there are some shelters which are homes where people who voluntarily decide to undertake an adventure can rest and recover, regardless of the nationality they belong to. Unlike these places, which are temporary homes on a path of freedom, refugees of the contemporary world desperately escape from death, leaving behind their homes, threatened or destroyed, and their only hope is to obtain some solidarity from other human beings.

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

Refugees are a special type of immigrants. The vast majority of humans moving from one territory to another does it for the same reason: inequality. Sometimes is a matter of economic inequality, as in the case of poverty. At other times is a matter of inequality due to political oppression or wars. In all three cases, the safety of the refugee’s life and his family life is seriously put into question.

And what about flight as a result of environmental problems?

To escape due to environmental disasters is analogous to other situations. The refugees embark on a sad path, often heartbreaking, due to circumstances that they themselves have not chosen. Who would be prepared to remain where he is when his life and that of his family is at risk?

When does one cease to be a refugee?

If the refugee begins his journey due to inequality and insecurity, he can only cease to be a refugee when the reasons for the escape no longer exist.

Is there a natural right to asylum?

The right to life should be guaranteed universally for all human beings. When someone’s life is at risk, he should have the right to reside in a country that protects him.

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

One should never lose it if the causes that gave rise to the law remain unchanged. That does not mean that the refugee has no obligations, but this discussion should not be confused with the full right to asylum.

Do you think that the number of refugees a society can absorb is limited?
If yes: where do you draw the line, and why?

I suggest thinking about the question the other way round: is the number of refugees that the planet earth can produce in the XXI century limited? I think that all countries committed to guaranteeing human rights should absorb all the refugees that the world produces. Who would want his child to die because the limit of what a country "can" absorb was reached? A global problem must be faced with global solutions, solutions planned to reduce the damage and risks to people.

Do refugees in your country receive fair treatment?

Argentina has a long tradition as a country of immigration and has a law that aims to guarantee the human rights of all immigrants. There have not been over recent years any serious complaints regarding the treatment of refugees. And today, I think Argentina could contribute more to receive refugees at this critical juncture.

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

I would accept a tax increase for the wealthiest 10% of the society. The social security system is especially used by low-income sectors and I believe these critical junctures require the solidarity of those who have more income.

What are the requirements for successful integration?

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

It is convenient to have comprehensive programs that consider the linguistic, educational, occupational and health integration. Depending on the quantities, these may be more complex processes. But the most convenient for them as well as for the host society is to facilitate mechanisms for integration. The recipient society must be well informed and properly trained. In the case of Argentina, the requirement is to awake the long tradition of cross-cultural links, reduce prejudice and facilitate communication.

Do you know any refugees personally?

I know many Argentinians who took refuge in Mexico or Spain during the Argentinian Military Dictatorship, as well as some Spanish people who sought asylum in Argentina. There were Peruvians who came to Argentina at the time of Fujimori and other similar cases. However, as the region is already some decades without political oppression and war, asylum within the region is less common than in the past.

Do you actively support any refugees?

Not today.

How will the refugee situation in your country develop

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

Specifically, in the case of Syrian refugees, Argentina only received a few hundred refugees at the beginning of the year and the government promised to raise the number to three thousand. Let us remember that Arab and Syrian immigrations to Argentina have a long history and have successfully adapted across the country. Given that background, I would like my country to expand that figure. Especially, and although it is far from having many resources, taking advantage that the demand for domestic refuge in Latin America is lower than at other times.

Can you imagine a world without refugees?
If yes: what does it take?

The utopia of a world without inequality, without wars, without dictatorships, always has to be reimagined and reinvented. Today it seems impossible. However, it should guide our actions in order to minimize violence and political oppression, as well as mitigate the inequality of opportunities that children, women and men have in our worlds. The refugee has lost the freedom to stay in his own land. Only when all human beings are free to stay on their land without risks caused by more powerful human beings, we will be able to really dream of a world without refugees. Anyway, even then there will be droughts or natural disasters requiring solidarity between societies. And that solidarity sometimes could be solved by sending objects (food, medicines, etc.) but sometimes it requires hospitality. We all have ancestors who have once enjoyed the hospitality, or perhaps they have provided hospitality, perhaps they have suffered because they needed it and could not have it. Let us dream of a world where no human being needs shelter and where we all can learn that being human is also being hospitable.

Have you or your family ever been refugee?

When I was a little child many friends of my parents had to go into exile during the dictatorship that began in Argentina in 1976. Many of my generation believe that our parents who did not seek exile simply made a mistake because they did not know the exact dimension of risk they were taking. So my family did not ask for asylum, but in retrospect we should have asked. Furthermore, the grandmother and great-grandmother of two of my brothers were Jews who escaped Europe in a famous ship that, after being rejected by two countries, returned to Europe. All passengers, including the two of them, ended up in concentration camps. When they were released they would not return to their homeland and came to live in Argentina, where the mother of my brothers was born as well as my brothers themselves.

Do you think you will ever be a one?

We always have our passports up to date as the dictatorship ended when I was 15 years old. While today it seems absurd to think of political persecution in South America, I do not think I ever stop having a valid passport. I grew up and always lived with the certainty that in case of a coup in my country I would leave the next day. It was always this way for the simple physical impossibility to live under a dictatorship. Today, in addition, by living as an anthropologist and as an intellectual through my freedom of opinion, I would have no choice but to leave.

How much “home” do you need?*

I vitally need a home. I could not fully live without it. It is warmth, love, trust, being able to walk in the dark blindly knowing where things are. It is certainty. Without a home all certainties are lost. And some certainty is as necessary as water. Not only should we have a right for housing, but also the right of a home, like the right to identify with a place that becomes ours.

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