An escape plan to a temporary exile

 

You should only think about leaving your country as an absolute last resort.  If you are in fear of imminent death, if you been convicted and are being sent to jail unfairly and illegally without due process of law, perhaps seeking safe haven or temporary political asylum in another country might be the correct choice.  However, any discussion with a cartoonist who has left his or her country without a proper visa under the worst of circumstances will reveal a person who has gone through a living hell while trying to survive in a strange country.  If you have close relatives who will support you in another safe haven country, you will be a step ahead of the game.  But if you are leaving your country without any receiving community or network of people or organizations to support you, you'll be shocked at how cold and unwelcoming the world can be.

Seeking a political asylum entry visa at a friendly embassy can take anywhere from six months to one year.  Going to another country on a tourist visa, with the intention of staying and claiming political asylum, means that you have lied on your visa application, a crime punishable by immediate deportation to your original country.   

In fairness, some countries will give you a temporary visa while your request for political asylum is reviewed, so long as you can prove objectively that your life is in danger in your own country.  You must be able to objectively substantiate the life-threatening risk of being returned to your home country.  Immigration authorities often assume that you are lying and that you only wish to enter their country in order to earn a better living.  This is called being an economic refugee.  Economic refugees are rarely considered for immigrant status.  You must be able to show through written records, newspaper clippings, personal anecdotal evidence of objective witnesses, the support of international human rights organizations, and other convincing evidence that you have been accused or convicted illegally under international law, and that your life will be in danger if you are returned home.  The countries that most easily provide sanctuary to a political refugee are the northern European Scandinavian countries.  The United States, Canada, and other European countries can make life very difficult for a political refugee applicant and should be considered only as a last resort.

When leaving your country, you must have a passport that will be valid for at least another two years.  Never leave the country unless you have a valid passport.  If your passport is about to expire and it expires while you are still applying for political asylum, the process will become much more complicated.  You must have enough money to sustain yourself at least for six months, and you should leave the country with enough clothing on your back and a small suitcase to sustain you for six months.  You must absolutely have good, reliable communications equipment such as a mobile phone or a smartphone in order to maintain communications with your family and with the international organizations that will come to your assistance.  

There are specialized international organizations to give you advice on finding a safe haven country.  There are safe haven cities in a number of countries around the world who specifically welcome cartoonists in trouble. 

Your Internet connections will help you find hundreds of documents and websites about finding safe haven in another country.  When you contact any of the organizations in the appendix, ask the staff members for keywords that you might Google to better educate yourself about the risks and problems of finding a safe haven country in times of crisis or danger.  One of the best organizations that we have worked with which helps cartoonists and other human rights refugees find a safe haven country is the International Cities of Refuge Network, or ICORN.  Their link is below.

Hiding out in a safe house in your own country may be the best alternative to leaving your own country illegally.  More often than not, when there is short-term but passionate reaction to your artwork, living incognito and quietly in a friend’s house, might be the wisest course of action until tempers die down and your critics move on to the next big, publicity generating controversy.  Fleeing the country and seeking safe haven may actually be an extremely unwise long-term solution to what could be, in reality, a short-term problem.  

One cartoonist we continue to work with fled his country because he thought he was going to be arrested.  In fact, there was never an effort made to find or arrest him but because he "ran away," he would definitely be arrested if he returned home now.  Two years later, he is struggling against terrible odds to maintain himself in his new country.  

Most countries receiving political asylum illegal immigrants have programs to maintain them while their investigation is going on.  These programs usually involve a very modest financial stipend to maintain a person and pay a very small rent.  However, every country is a bit different and most of these programs have time limits on the support that they will give.  

Always remember that escaping to another country may seem attractive but this is a very dangerous and very risky action  It should only be considered as an absolute last resort.

Summary:

  • A decision to leave your country will be one of the most important decisions of your life.
  • Consider leaving your country only as an absolute last resort.
  • Readjusting to a new life in a strange culture is almost always professionally and personally difficult.

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