Been Driving Refugees

In the past couple of months Sweden has started to receive large numbers of refugees from Syria, Iraq and a few other war-torn Middle-eastern countries. The ones who claim the right of political asylum are adequately cared for by the immigration authorities. But many don’t claim that right. They may have more or less accurate information about other countries that offer better chances, so when they get off the train at Stockholm Central Station, they’re basically tourists in the eyes of the law. And the municipality hasn’t been able to care for them. Instead a major volunteer movement has sprouted, working to offer transit refugees food, housing, clothes, medical care and legal advice. To give an idea of how big this is, the main Facebook group for these volunteers has 16,400 members.

I don’t read much news and I’m not much of an activist. So I’ve joined the volunteer ranks late, being motivated particularly by the realisation that for several weeks the biggest housing establishment for transit refugees has been in my home municipality, right across the street from the County Museum and the community arts centre. It looks like a refugee camp in a hangar-like techno club. Because that’s what it is.

I know of course in abstract that Sweden receives a healthy number of refugees per capita et annum. And I live in a cosmopolitan suburb where many of my neighbours must have come here once as refugees. But wealthy conservative-governed Nacka municipality is hardly involved at all in the initial care of them as they arrive. So seeing tired and confused people with big bags and nowhere to go is big news to me. It’s as if world history has suddenly showed up in my back yard after half a lifetime of political complacency. It’s been over 200 years since the Kingdom of Sweden was in a state of war. And I find that volunteering at a refugee centre beats the hell out of spending your evenings reading a humdrum e-book.

For the past few days I’ve mainly served as a driver, making good use of what years of geocaching around Stockholm has taught me about finding my way around. And I’ve rediscovered the joy of working together with new acquaintances for a common project, like we used to for much more playful purposes in the Tolkien Society.

So many new impressions.

  • The refugees are mostly young or middle-aged men.
  • They travel in small groups which do not like to get separated.
  • They’re in good physical shape and seem relieved to have reached Sweden.
  • Young Swedified second-generation immigrants of both genders form a major part of the volunteer effort.
  • The big Sunnite mosque in central Stockholm is also housing lots of people.
  • The little Shiite mosque in Alby offered to help and was asked to cook dinner for 200 people. They delivered dinner for 350. One young guy explained to me, “We’re Shiites, this is our thing: we like to cook lots of food for pilgrims several times a year.”
  • Most have no clear idea about where to go. Many follow an apparently outdated rumour that says Finland has accommodating laws, but they aren’t allowed on the ferry from Stockholm to Helsinki. So they take the train all the way to Haparanda at the far end of the Gulf of Botnia and walk across the Torne river bridge to Finland.
  • One guy asked me about the relative merits of Sweden and Ireland (!?) as countries of asylum. One volunteer told me his twelve-year-old nephew had been asked for similar advice by a refugee.
  • One guy had spent seven years making pizza in Berlin and spoke way better German than I do.
  • And though my own input into the relief effort has been quite modest, I am very proud of how my fellow stockholmers are responding. They’re donating time, money and goods, and they’re making a big impression on the refugees. I’ve lost count of the recent arrivals who have told me in broken English that they think Sweden is a great country.
  • But don’t donate flavoured teabags. Syrians and Iraqis are sensible people who recognise that tea is one plant and that it should not be adulterated with feckin’ flower petals.

Here’s good advice on how people in Stockholm can help.

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56 thoughts on “Been Driving Refugees

  1. “The point is that people allow, and even aid and abet, some groups to break the law when in other cases prosecution would be swift.” – That is an allegation unsupported by facts. It sounds like paranoia. I have not heard of any cases in Western democracies where such crimes have been aided and abetted by the legal authorities. If you can cite real cases to the contrary, aside from the empty ramblings of some geriatric attention-seeking basket case like Germaine Greer, it would be of interest.

    “Why is infant and/or child circumcision still allowed in many places? Because old religions do it. If some newfangled sect had sexual mutilation of minors as part of its rites, it would be rightfully forbidden.” – Yes, and in this case I agree with you completely.

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  2. Philip, I don’t like big theories. But people are fleeing Syria and western Iraq because their choices are living under a horrible dictatorship which bombs and conscripts and tortures them, or living under one of three terrible religious extremist groups which shells them and persecutes them for not practicing exactly the right religion exactly the right way (the estimates I have seen is that no more than 10% of all resistance fighters are in any other group, and many of the small groups are also nasty; most of the secular groups were crushed or forced to join one of the big religious ones at gunpoint). And I care a lot more about people from Syria and Iraq than about some abstract good for the nations of Iraq and Syria; great evil has been done by people who believed that the actual human beings in a country today were less important than its glory in the future. I also figure that people from Iraq and Syria can decide what to do with their lives better than I can.

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  3. “That is an allegation unsupported by facts.”

    This was a reference to the link I posted about Swedish physicians in Sweden performing virginity tests on women against their will. This is illegal in Sweden. Why didn’t someone from the hospital report it? Not reporting is aiding and abetting. Why was an undercover television reporter the first to report on this?

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  4. “Not reporting is aiding and abetting. Yes.

    “Why was an undercover television reporter the first to report on this?” No idea, but now that they have alerted the police, I would expect the police to investigate, and charge people as appropriate.

    Keep you eagle eyes on the Swedish press and let me know what happens, would you? I will interested to know.

    One problem I see is that the victims will be too scared to give evidence or say it was without their consent.

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  5. One problem I see is that the victims will be too scared to give evidence or say it was without their consent.

    A fair amount of criminal activity, most of it entirely unrelated to the religion or immigration status of the perpetrators, continues to exist for exactly this reason. Without the testimony of victims, the prosecutors can’t make the charges stick.

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