China Li Juan

Li Juan
Photo: Li Juan

In the project "Where to?" authors and intellectuals from almost 40 countries were given a questionnaire on refuge and migration. The sources of inspiration were questionnaires by the Swiss writer Max Frisch, who in his diaries formulated them in a concise manner on general topics like friendship, marriage, death or money.

What does the term refugee mean to you?

For me, these are displaced people without shelter and almost without hope who nevertheless cling to life.

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

I do not make a difference here. For me, extreme poverty is no less threatening than everything else.

And what about flight as a result of environmental problems?

As long as it is not based on economic problems resulting from fraud, I can understand every reason for flight.

When does one cease to be a refugee?

When survival is secured and when one has the right to work.

Is there a natural right to asylum?

This should exist. It represents human civilization.

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

I believe that it should be linked to adequate conditions.

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

No society has unlimited capacities. One has to comply with one’s own capabilities.

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

The limits lie probably within the acceptance of the local population and the material conditions of a society.

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

If one looks back in history, yes. As far as I know, political factors play a role, as well as the connection to certain ethnic groups.

Do refugees in your country receive fair treatment?

I do not know enough about this.

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

For me personally, they would be acceptable.

What are the requirements for successful integration?

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

In my view, really successful integration requires two or three generations. Thus, the most important factor is time, provided one hangs on in there long enough. In any case, minimum requirements concern mutual acceptance of each other’s cultural backgrounds. This, too, takes time.

Do you know any refugees personally?

So far, I have not had any contact with real refugees in our time. Still, the district of Altai where I live has always been a haven for people on the run. The area lies in the border region of Kazakhstan, Russia and Mongolia, and in spite of the barren landscape and the hostile climate, generations of refugees have been seeking shelter from famine and war here over the centuries. My family, too, has experience with flight. They survived because they came here in the course of the so-called “three-year natural disaster” at the beginning of the 1960s.

Do you actively support any refugees?

So far not.

How will the refugee situation in your country develop

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

This is hard for me to evaluate.

Can you imagine a world without refugees?

Not at all, I am relatively pessimistic in this regard.

If yes: what does it take?

I am afraid our hands are tied.

Have you or your family ever been refugee?

I already related that my family fled from Sichuan to Xinjiang half a century ago, driven by famine. At the time, these people were called “vagabonds” in the sense of people “aimlessly wandering about”. At the time, budget control was still very strict. Also in times of national famine, the population wasn’t really allowed to move about freely. In spite of this, I already had to move across the country with my family when I was still a child. Even if we were never considered to be “refugees”, we experienced the restless life of “vagabonds”, as people who had lost their social status and their social security. For a long time, we had no Hukou, meaning an official residence which, for example, made it very difficult to attend school.

Do you think you will ever be a one?

I consider this to be rather unlikely, but you never know. Even though I do not feel threatened directly, I am still very aware of the catastrophes which can happen in one’s life. My precaution is to maintain as simple a life style as possible. In case I really would have to leave the country, I would prefer highly cultivated countries with a rather tolerant social system. But if it really came to that I would probably not think for long. I would simply flee to the nearest place.

How much “home” do you need?*

As I have never lived for long in the same place, I am lacking the experience of „home“ and I am unable to understand why people need a “homeland”. Nevertheless, I love each of the places where I lived and to which I am connected through unforgettable memories. Probably, “home” is simply the place of which one has the most memories.

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