Sanctuaries of Hope: Asylum in Our Own Countries and Abroad

The Proposal

The problem: There are people want to change their lives, but are unable to do so. Whether due to cultural and familial pressures, lack of familial support, lack of money, absence of opportunities, former criminal records, addiction, disease, or a likely combination of one or more of these factors, people cannot change their lives without extra support, both material and otherwise.

The solution: Create safe, transparent, secular, democratic and non-profit institutions where people can seek sanctuary or asylum from the conditions that hold them back, either from direct persecution or from an unsafe, unstable, or un-nurturing environment. Make these institutions campuses where one can live, work, study, and interact with other people, and where one has direct, unrestricted access to important services such as doctors, psychiatrists, libraries, academic or work training, and internet, and where one is housed, fed, paid and given enough resources, advice, support, time and independence to reenter the world on good standing. Make these institutions on the edges of cities, so that sanctuary seekers — people in crisis — are lifted out of the environment that causes their suffering, but so that they do not have to travel an impossible distance to find asylum. Make these institutions open and international, so that a person who has received sanctuary in one country can then migrate to a sanctuary in another part of the same country, or in another country entirely, where the person in sanctuary — the sanctuee — can then integrate into that country, as the case may be, in order to be removed entirely from the toxic home environment.

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Cases Where Sanctuaries are Needed

Example 1: Women all over the world live in environments of direct oppression, where they have little say over their lives, over whom they marry, whether or where they get educated, whether or where they work, or whether they have children and how many. Beyond that, women are subject to strict codes of dress and conduct, and in extreme but not rare cases genital mutilation. All over the world women are also overwhelmingly more likely to be abused or raped than (and naturally by) men, and even when there is no direct physical or sexual abuse, women overall live in environments where they are threatened, coerced, or where they are dismissed as second-class citizens, or told on a continuous basis that they are inferior and incapable of doing certain things. There are cases of men in similar situations, and it is clear that the question of societal pressure on males to act certain ways must also be raised and addressed. For all people in such situations we can make for instance a lethality assessment, and they should be able to better themselves, to remove themselves from the toxic environments and put themselves into designed healing environments.

Example 2: Women and men all over the world live in environments of direct oppression, where they are labeled as untrustworthy, or as without worth, simply due to the colour of their skin or to the group — religious, national, ethnic, or otherwise — into which they were born. Divisions of race, origin, and creed have clear and unmistakable class divisions in terms of wealth and property, and individuals from “minority” i.e. oppressed groups are more often targeted for arrest, more often targeted for crimes of violence or fraud, more often excluded from access to health and social services, have less access to decent working conditions, less access to decent educational institutions, and on the whole live in more dangerous, desolate, polluted environments unsuitable for human growth. Furthermore they often become the scapegoats for the troubles of other groups, of the rest of society. For all people in such situations they should be able to better themselves, to remove themselves from the toxic environments and put themselves into deisgned healing environments.

Example 3: Women and men all over the world of all races, nationalities and creeds live in environments of direct oppression, where they are not able to change the world around them because they were born into conditions of extreme poverty. Conditions of extreme poverty have well-documented negative effects on the development of human beings from infancy to adulthood, and poorer people are more likely to get sick or die earlier than other people [CITATIONS]. Furthermore, while drug addiction and crime are prevalent on all strata of society, poor people are more likely to die from their addictions, to be incarcerated for crimes they did or did not commit, or to not have the support to deal with their addictions or reintegrate after incarceration, or to recover from illnesses, theft, or acts of violence against them [CITATIONS]. For all people in such situations they should be able to better themselves, to remove themselves from the toxic environments and put themselves into designed healing environments.

Political, Economic and Moral Considerations

Sustainability: The sanctuaries must be run and maintained, and require continuous monetary inflows. They should not be turned into workhouses, where individuals receive help on the condition of producing goods or services. It is well within the means of nations, wealthy individuals and wealthy organizations to create such institutions, whether through taxation or donation, so that people can better themselves without churning a profit.

Autonomy: The people who seek sanctuary must be given more than material assistance — although material assistance is equally important. Access to training and educational programs, as well as to health and psychiatric services, is essential to improving the lives of people and allowing them to become autonomous individuals. Autonomy must be developed in people over time, and individuals require stable and nurturing environments in order to grow.

Openness: Those people who seek such sanctuary are likely exactly those individuals who need it. While there are people who exploit such institutions, it is simply not the case the majority of individuals want to have their needs provided without also participating in society. Safeguards can be made to deter so-called “free-riding”, but more important is that all people who need sanctuary receive it, even if that rationally means there is free-riding.

Longevity: It might turn out that individuals seeking sanctuary are never quite capable of leaving, of integrating or reintegrating into society. Such people are typically already to be found on the streets. People do not choose to live on the streets, but also do not work under typical models of rehabilitation. If this is the case then they should be given the opportunity to have sanctuary for their entire lives.

Integration: People will seek sanctuary for many different reasons, and will have different needs and levels of sanctuary. A persecuted or abused person might seek sanctuary as a means of protection, which the sanctuary must provide as a safe house. A poverty-stricken person might seek sanctuary as a means of getting on their feet, which the sanctuary must provide as a base for exiting and entering the outside world as needed.

Independence: The sanctuaries must be independent from the sources of their monetary funds, so that they can make case-by-case decisions without pressure from governments or donors. It is essential that this independence is both inter- and intra-institutional, that outside institutions do not have a stake in the outcomes of the sanctuaries, and that different sanctuaries can apply different methods based on their different political, cultural and economic situations.

Transparency: The sanctuaries must be open to transparent international public monitoring without endangering the sanctuees or revealing their identities. Monitoring agencies would help to ensure that there is no rent-seeking or abuse of positions of authority that are inherent in such institutions, and especially that vulnerable individuals are not abused and in fact receive the help that the sanctuaries are there to provide.

Democracy: The sanctuaries must be democratic institutions, i.e. institutions wherein the people making decisions are also the people working and running the institutions. This is to ensure that they themselves are in control of the day-to-day practices in the institution, and that they can be paid fair salaries.

Security: Especially in troubled areas of the world, the sanctuaries must be secure against threats of force from the outside. It simply does not make sense to put oppressed individuals in a central location that is then vulnerable to the very oppressors. In wealthy countries, security might be minimal, but in developing or war-torn countries it is important that security is more substantial, and where needed that nations even provide military assistance. As undesirable as it is, there are forces in parts of the world that can threaten such institutions, but those are the parts of the world where such institutions are most needed.

Internationality: To some extent these sanctuaries must have international sovereignty, so that oppressive laws and practices within countries do not apply to the sanctuaries, and so that anyone accepted into a sanctuary in one country can have the chance to migrate to another country without fear of being turned away or deported. Let the sanctuaries therefore be subject to international law and given the status of consulates.

(Note: these are just some of the considerations. Naturally there are an unending array of considerations — political, economic, social, cultural and moral. We encourage an open discussion).

Locations Where Sanctuaries are Most Needed

  • The Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories
  • Occupied countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan
  • War-torn countries such as Syria
  • Unstable countries such as South Sudan and Libya
  • Patriarchal countries such as Saudi Arabia and Bahrain
  • All countries heavily affected by climate change
  • All major cities in all countries, especially where there are large slums

Bringing Similar Institutions Together

The following are but some institutions already in place that could benefit from working more closely together and developing a sanctuaries of hope strategy.

  • Domestic violence centers
  • Disaster management
  • Half-way houses
  • Anti-human trafficking
  • Refugee camps
  • Interim migration and integration Centers

Feasibility, Implementation and Coordination

There is no reason why these sanctuaries cannot be built. We have the money and we have the models — in other words we have the way. If you say it is too difficult to build these sanctuaries in developing countries without laws and infrastructure, start in developed countries. If you say there would be too many sanctuary seekers with too many reasons for sanctuary, take a minimalistic libertarian approach and start with taking the most needy. If you say wealthy people will not contribute, appeal to the rest of society. If you say so many sanctuaries will be impossible to finance, start with one. The way is never a problem, only the will.

Robert Pyotr Wolff

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