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