Mexico Antonio Ortuño

Antonio Ortuño
Photo: Alvaro Moreno

What does the term refugee mean to you?

It refers to those seeking refuge and protection outside their country against their own countrymen.

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

Not at all. There is nothing more deeply human than migration.

And what about flight as a result of environmental problems?

It is also logical. We are at the expense of the climate, natural disasters, scarcity or disappearance of resources.

When does one cease to be a refugee?

When he integrates into the society that welcomes him or when he manages to return to his motherland.

Is there a natural right to asylum?

I think so and I believe it is indispensable.

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

I believe a healthy society would make every effort to receive the largest number of people needing refuge.

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

I would not put a limit, especially an arbitrary limit which is calculated based on the most selfish budgets.

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

Mexico has received refugees and emigrants from many countries. I fear Mexicans apply the same codes of racism and classism by which they judge themselves. That is, there is a greater respect for emigrants from European countries or the United States than for those from Central and South America.

Do refugees in your country receive fair treatment?

It used to be like that. But Mexican life has led in recent years to a situation in which violence prevails, and the emigrants, especially those from Central America, suffer. With regard to Central American immigrants Mexico suffers a complex situation. The goal of the illegal Latin American migration (mainly composed of Mexicans, Guatemalans, Salvadorans and Hondurans) is to arrive to the United States. Many immigrants escape from poverty and violence (including specific threats to their lives) and many others are in search of better economic conditions. Many members of their families remain in their home countries and receive, hopefully, remittances sent from the United States. Except for isolated cases, these immigrants do not consider themselves as refugees, they are part of a mainly economic immigration which has already lasted for several years and has turned remittances into a major source of foreign exchange earnings for the countries involved (in Mexico, for example, foreign currency sent by immigrants is for many years the main source of income in the country, exceeding the oil income).

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

Totally. Although it should be pointed that Mexico is a transit country for most immigrants, whose final destination is the United States.

What are the requirements for successful integration?

- on the part of the refugees?

A refugee is in the worst position, I think. He generally has to conform to what others decide to give him.

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

Empathy, first and foremost. Immigrants are people, they are not ducks or butterflies, they are not only a part of a "phenomenon", they are individuals.

Do you know any refugees personally?

Yes.

Do you actively support any refugees?

My family supports the local shelter for immigrants.

How will the refugee situation in your country develop

a) over the next two years?

I do not see a quick end to the terrible situation of violence to which Central American immigrants are exposed in Mexico.

b) over the next two decades?

I am afraid that the increase of the obsession for US border security and the American determination that Mexico become the first line of defense will worsen the situation.

Can you imagine a world without refugees?

It would be like to think of a world without violence. A utopia, an ideal.

If yes: what does it take?

I wish I could answer this.

Have you or your family ever been refugee?

My mother and her family migrated from Spain after the Civil War of 1936-39.

Do you think you will ever be a one?

I hope not.

How much “home” do you need?*

My home is my family and my idea of community includes people of very different countries. I could live outside my country but I’ll rather think I can also stay here.

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