What’s your escape plan?

I’ve been noticing stories on the news lately about the Iraqi refugees in Syria. The latest one I heard was about all the services needed to take care of that many people with no income. The one that really stuck with me, though, was from a while ago, talking about how so many of the refugees in Syria had actually been quite wealthy when they first arrived, but as the years have dragged on and they still feel unsafe returning to Iraq, their savings have dwindled. They can no longer afford to rent the large houses they settled in originally; they have sold many of the possessions they brought with them; any business they possibly once owned in Iraq has been taken over. They do not have the right to work in Syria, no matter how highly trained, so they have no hope of income. And these were the people who planned ahead and had means to leave.

Today, one of my friends sent me the link to this NYTimes story about Venezuelan immigrants to the US. They are moving to Florida in droves to escape Chavez, or at least his policies. My friend, who is currently living in South Florida as well, pointed out that none of these people are anything but upper class, especially given which Miami suburbs they seem to be settling in. Luckily, many of these people seem to have found a way into the US that allows them to work. They are the wealthy ones, the lucky ones.

But then there are the ones who don’t leave until things get really bad, who don’t understand what’s going on until there are desaparecidos being taken from their neighborhoods, their families, as happened in Chile and Argentina, and now in Iraq. Some of them can’t leave the country at all; others may be able to just afford to leave, but how will they support themselves when they get somewhere else?

When I was in Chile, there was a TV show called Patiperros, which traveled to different countries around the world and found ex-pat Chileans to show what their lives were like. They would always ask them why they had left Chile, and if they wanted to go back. A few of the younger ones said they had left because they wanted to be in theater, a dancer, an artist, whatever, and the prospects were better in the other country. Most of them had mixed feelings about returning home, because they liked their new lives, but missed their families and so on. But some of the older ones were people who had left Chile during the Pinochet era. These were the ones who didn’t want to go back, who had scarred memories and strong devotion to their new lives, far away.

At the time, I thought it was a good show, because it wasn’t just a travel show giving a simple showcase of the different countries, it was actually following Chileans around the world. I still think that’s an interesting concept, because the ex-pat experience really is sort of an in-between existence. But now I think back on it for what it showed of the people who had fled during bad times, and I wonder, would I end up as lucky as they were? Would I find a new place to establish myself, get a job, build a life again? Where could I go? Have times now changed so much, with stricter passport controls and immigration rules, that I would end up living off of savings until I had nothing left? Do I have an escape plan? Do you?

-posted by Dana

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5 Responses to What’s your escape plan?

  1. Jan says:

    Interesting question. Wouldn’t it be necessary (and much more valiant) to stay loyal to your country (not your government) and fight the regime (fascist or communist or religious, whatever)?
    Apart from the fact that I would agree that Chavez has gone a bit too far in some of his ideas, I doubt that it is really necessary to leave Venezuela right now. Maybe those are people with some foresight, maybe they just don’t want to take any chances, or maybe they want to save their wealth and don’t care where they live. Who knows?
    I think it is too extreme to compare a) Iraquis fleeing to Syria and Venezolanos moving to Miami, and b) things that happened in Chile or Argentina (or Paraguay or Uruguay) with what is happening in Venezuela right now.

  2. Dana says:

    Jan,

    The people who have left Venezuela right now appear to be pretty much just wealthy people who don’t want their businesses taken over by socialist governmental policies, so no, they’re not a good parallel to true refugees. I was mostly using them to point out that they’re an identifiable group of people who have migrated recently, and the thing that allowed them to do it, often legally and in comfort, was money.

    I also didn’t mean that what is happening in Venezuela right now is like what happened in Argentina and Chile. Mostly, I was comparing the desaparecidos in those countries to the people being kidnapped in Iraq now. Sorry if it wasn’t clear that those were separate points.

  3. Jan says:

    Ah, ok, now it is clear to me as well. I didn’t know that there are people being kidnapped in Iraq. Killings, yes, but kidnappings? And on such a large scale?
    On a slightly unrelated note: did you hear that the former Uruguayan president who was in favor of the military regime (and allowed them to take over) has now been put in prison? People are very pleased to finally see some justice (something they were never able to achieve in Chile in regard to Pinochet).

  4. Dana says:

    I don’t think the kidnappings in Iraq are on as large a scale yet, but the news report I was listening to a while ago that sparked this post said that they had started, and that’s part of what’s making it so hard for the refugees to feel like they could go home yet, because they hear the stories from the kidnap victims who escaped or were released.

    I didn’t hear that about the Uruguayan ex-president. Good for them! Everything in Chile was so complicated by various people’s attitudes toward Pinochet, I always thought the only way things would ever be finished with him was if he just died on his own. And then he did. So you’re right that there was no closure, but I honestly don’t know if real closure would have been possible, on a national level, for everyone. (Not to say that I agree with the Pinochet supporters, just that I understand that their feelings are quite strong, too.)

  5. Jan says:

    Yeah, the whole thing was preceded by a violent (!) fight on tv between the son of the president and the son of one left-wing activist who had been in prison for several years during the dictatorship. Looks like the whole debate and coming-to-terms-with-the-past is taking place now, 20 years later, under the first left-wing government they’ve ever had!
    Back to topic: I remember a long discussion about patriotism with a friend of mine. Sure it would be awful to lose my home country to some dictator or invader, but I don’t think I would fight. I’d emigrate to whatever country takes me in and see what happens.

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