Daniel Worku Kassa
What does the term refugee mean to you?
A refugee is someone who runs out of darkness in search of light. She/he is a person looking for a place to bring back their lost human elements, it is a person who is looking for a place to prove that he/she is a human being and have the right to live on earth. Well, but this all depends on the attitude of the political powers and the generosity and cordiality of others to guarantee her/his right to live.
Is flight from poverty less legitimate than flight from war or political oppression?
It’s not less legitimate. To answer this question we must search for the reason why people are getting poor and find it difficult to survive in their own countries. The essential reasons of poverty and destitution are war, lack of justice, unstable governments, greed and bad governance. Highly unbalanced distribution of wealth is very vividly observed in countries from which people flee in search of better living environments. Even though it is not directly associated with war and political oppression, flight from poverty is not less legitimate than it. The root causes of poverty in most of the poor countries of the world are bad governance and political oppression.
Who am I to judge a family who decides to flee out of a country in order to save their ravenous and disowned children, as less legitimate than refugees who flee from political oppression?
And what about flight as a result of environmental problems?
Every problem is interrelated. The root causes of environmental problems are similar to those of poverty. Wild greed, lust to control all but give back nothing destroys everything including the environment. The causes of environmental problems are a bit different than the others which we mentioned above, as at times reasons may be related to what is happening nearby and around the country. As it is frequently mentioned in every UN meeting, civilized/developed countries become the main reason of climate change which causes environmental problems. So what is happening elsewhere in the world affects people who have nothing to do with the situation? The only choice left for such people is to run for their lives.
When does one cease to be a refugee?
It is when a person feels the taste of freedom: free to think, free to move and contribute what s/he can to the society. It is when one lives a life without fear and terror. It is when one has a recognizable place as a member of a community or believes she or he is accepted, and starts to act as a human being.
Is there a natural right to asylum?
Yes, it may not be written in any countries’ or United Nations’ laws but asylum is a natural right of human beings, like birds and animals. Earth is a common place for human beings. Born in South Africa or Alaska or born black, brown, yellow or white since you are born on earth you have got every right to live on this earth. Look at the birds, birds are a good example of a natural right and exercise of the freedom to emigrate.
If yes: is this right unconditional, or can it be forfeited?
This right is conditional. First of all everyone has a birth place, and has a responsibility to work and create in his/her birth place as she/he pleases to make it suitable for him/herself, his/her family, for his/her countryman and for the human race in general. The effort s/he made and the obstacles s/he faced must be considered. Secondly, if refugees are lawbreakers or criminals, and they intend to harm and hurt others, wherever they go, the conditions of their acceptance must be considered.
Do you think that the number of refugees a society can absorb is limited?
It is a Catch-22 situation. How can we limit the number since people fled to save their lives and the life of their kids, people who are seeking asylum from life and death situations? How can we decided to let some live and others die? It is a very elusive situation.
It is also very difficult to accept all refugees and at the same time maintain the country’s economy and the life standard of its inhabitants. You cannot be generous with the things you don’t have. The only solution, in my opinion, is to come together and share. There are always solutions to accept all, such is the function (at least theoretically) of the UN. I can’t find an impartial reason not to accept some and to let others die, while knocking at our doors and begging for our mercy.
If yes: where do you draw the line, and why?
There is no line to draw... only a search for a solution.
Are there privileged refugees in your country, i.e. refugees that are more welcome than others? If yes: why?
Yes there were, and still there are, but very few. There were refugees who rose to the rank of ministers and friends to our kings. There are very few and highly respected Europeans. My country is one of the poorest in the world which is struggling to develop. People usually do not choose or ask for refugee status in my country. Ethiopia has a large refugee population who is considered temporary refugees and are largely supported by the UN. Most stay as guests for a few years. And refugees with some kind of help are always privileged and welcome. There are some refugees from our neighboring countries and also from different countries in Africa who stay for a long period of time. They may not be very privileged but they face no problems living in our society. Some even have their own city quarters which have got everything necessary to sustain them, including worshiping places, shops, clinics, and even banks; all run by their own people, by refugees.
Do refugees in your country receive fair treatment?
I believe so. There may be some problems, but not significant. From what I observed and experienced so far the treatment is fair.
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 don’t think I can answer this because we don’t have a social security system and we don’t have so many permanent refugees.
What are the requirements for successful integration?
- on the part of the refugees?
In Rome live like a Roman. To get accustomed to the local culture and respect it. Introduce your culture in a gradual way and share it with the locals. Accept the difference in culture and traditions and be friendly. The difficulty of accommodating traditional variance occurs on both sides.
- on the part of the citizens of the host country?
In regard to the citizens, I believe they know how it feels to be a refugee. Since we have got millions of our own refugees scattered around the world, people do understand these feelings. Having experience of some terrible news coming from different parts of the world about the cruelty and the bad treatment that occur to their children, I think, allows my people the ability to share the feelings of the refugees. To understand their fears and confusions, and try, at least, to treat them in a way they would wish their daughters and sons to be treated elsewhere.
Do you know any refugees personally?
Yes, I knew some families.
Do you actively support any refugees?
Yes, I try to help them as much as I can, in various ways. Mostly I act as a bridge. I try to help their neighbors to comprehend their situation, to accept their kids as their own. I talk to landlords, neighbors and others in an attempt to help all realize the situations they are in. To appreciate the cultural and religious differences, to help to create understanding among them and most of all to remind them that we are all human beings and we are all born entitled to make mistakes. Whatever errors they found in them can be made by any human being including themselves. This helps a lot in the relationships between local and refugee.
How will the refugee situation in your country develop
a) over the next two years?
b) over the next two decades?
It goes with the change that will happen. It is very difficult to anticipate from my country’s current status.
Can you imagine a world without refugees?
No not at all. The world is shaped by refugees. Even refugees from very rich places like Europe have had the chance to think properly, and to change the world from within the countries that absorbed them. Freedom is very essential to human beings. People are not seeking asylum only because of poverty, war, political operations or environmental changes, there are refugees fleeing to seek places where they can fully exploit their intellectual abilities.
Have you or your family ever been refugee?
Yes my uncle, he fled only because he could not practice his expertise and knowledge anywhere in the country. So he decided to go to a place where he can be useful again. And two cousins who fled for economic reasons and both of them were brought back in coffins.
Do you think you will ever be a one?
- If yes: why?
So far I believe I have a responsibility to contribute to my country. I work hard to see my country permanently at ease and be a comfortable home to my children and their peers. I have tried my best, so far, but I don’t know about the future. It depends on the political developments in my country. It is an indeterminate factor. I wish for us not to go back to fighting each other again. If that happens, yes, I could become a refugee.
- How do you prepare yourself?
I don’t need to prepare, I rather work hard to help avoid that kind of uncertainty happening in my country.
- To which country would you take refuge to?
If it happens, God forbid, my first choice would be Germany, the second the Netherlands, the third Uganda.
How much “home” do you need?*
I never thought of it. I need a place to raise my kids peacefully and properly, that is all. I need a place where I can be useful to society. In addition to that, I need Freedom to travel freely to any country around the world. Whenever I went to Europe I always felt and enjoyed the sweetness of traveling freely from one country to another. Even though I can understand the situation we are in I wish that kind of freedom to all human beings especially to black people from Africa.
*This question was taken from Max Frisch’s questionnaire concerning “heimat”.