I’ve been contemplating this article for some time now, almost since I got back to Sweden, which was five months ago, after having spent close to fifteen years in the US. For each month, I’ve learned more, and I’ve become increasingly concerned. This is my attempt to bring an outsider’s perspective to the staggering problems ahead of Sweden and Europe. However, I believe there is hope as well, and that there are possibilities to change a quite dark scenario, but it all starts with accepting reality as it is, and then proceed to take action with an intelligent heart.
Righteousness in Sweden and in the US
Discussing the refugee crisis with many Swedes is similar to discussing the problems with the gun laws, the consequences of closing abortion clinics and the effects of climate change with the Tea Party and the Republican Evangelicals. There is such intensity and righteousness in both corners that logic, consequences and reality are hard to find. Which surprises me. Swedes have for the past couple of hundred years been known to be pragmatic and rational, but something changed during the time I was away. The tide is slowly turning, however, and there is a dawning realization that Sweden must start behaving a bit more like our Scandinavian neighbors. The same cannot be said for the Republican Evangelicals, unfortunately.
Lessons from an American Buddhist Monk in India
Using an example from Jack Kornfield, a Buddhist, psychologist and meditation teacher, that is taken from his book “A Path with Heart,” might illustrate the problems of giving when engulfed with human suffering. Before Kornfield left the temple where he had studied as a Buddhist Monk in India for several months, he wanted to give away his remaining money to the beggars he was passing everyday. He had prepared s a mindful respectful ceremony, but it ended up with him fleeing for his life when he was run over with beggars. When he got back to the temple his teachers laughed at his American naivety. Another story is about a Western Buddhist woman studying in India, who one day was attacked in her rickshaw. Due to her meditation and compassion training, which she thought was only about having an open heart, she didn’t dare to do anything. When she got back and asked her teacher for advice, he said, “You should have very mindfully and with great compassion whacked the attacker over the head with your umbrella.”
The reasons why most of us (particularly Swedes, who are used to that the Swedish government takes responsibility for people’s empathy through the payment of high taxes), act with such intense emotion upon facing suffering up close, can be attributed to the fact that we are non-skilled givers. Meeting human suffering at our doorstep, combined with a lot of guilt, shame and bewilderment, make us throw pragmatism out the window. Jack Kornfield puts it beautifully:
When our sense of self-worth is still low, we cannot set limits, make boundaries, or respect our own needs. Our seemingly compassionate assistance becomes mixed with dependence, fear and insecurity. Mature love and healthy compassion are not dependent but interdependent, born out of a deep respect for ourselves as well as for others. Jack Kornfield
Sweden has been the most generous country in the world (per capita) when it comes to international aid for decades. The past 20 years, it has also had the most generous asylum policies for people fleeing persecution. In the past four years, Sweden decided to more or less throw the doors wide open by extending the reasons why you could seek asylum, welcoming people with a very extensive financial support, making it the most generous aid-giving country in the world. It is also the country in the world which has taken on most refugees per capita, which now is known by refugees and those seeking a better life, making Sweden the #1 go-to place, besides Germany.
A New Trend of Migration
The reality, though, is that the migration streams that we now are seeing are only partially due to the Syrian war. When transportation is getting cheaper, and people acquire the means to travel longer distances, more and more people living in abject poverty and suffering from wars, like in Afghanistan, Somalia and Iraq, will want to seek a better life. Which many of us living in West would do as well if the situation was the reverse. However, there is no possibility that Europe, in its current set-up with a generous welfare system, can receive more than a fraction of those fleeing, even though hundreds of thousands, or more realistically, millions, from the Middle East and Africa are expected to try in the coming years.
Male Refugees & Gender Disparity
2/3 of the current refugees that have arrived so far in Sweden this year are men, and they primarily come from Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, altogether arriving in numbers Sweden never has faced before. Sweden has a population of 9.5M and this year at least 190.000 are expected to arrive, which is more than the size of Uppsala, the fourth largest city in Sweden. The two previous years about 100.000 arrived each year, also with more men than women. Only this year 30.000 “children” (there are virtually no girls in this group and it’s believed that many of these boys are above 18) will arrive. So besides the sheer enormity of volumes, there is a huge gender disparity, which will create extensive problems moving forward.
Men in all societies are responsible for 90% of all crimes, and it’s in the upper teens and twenties that most crimes are committed, usually attributed to the testosterone levels being higher in younger years. Adding to the fact that many of the refugees have experienced trauma, often leading to degrees of PTSD, which we now know affects the brain and the propensity to aggression, this is a problem that can’t be ignored. Speaking to the women in these immigrant suburbs, they are afraid of how much worse their situation will be due to an increasing male controlling presence. Finally, it’s the girls and the women that are being left behind in the camps in Turkey and Libya. (Often with good reason. The rapes and atrocities that girls and women are put through migrating alone are terrifying, but since all money is spent on the men who arrive here, there is little money left to support the women and the girls remaining in these refugee camps. The idea is often to bring the girls, women and the rest of their families later on, which is important for human reasons and for counteracting the gender imbalance, but adding so many additional people might be logistically and financially impossible). Which makes me want to give special preference for girls and women seeking asylum for years moving forward.
The costs are staggering. Just the cost of handling the 30.000 boys is estimated to be 23Billion SEK ($3B), compared with the 30B SEK ($4.2B) that is the entire yearly cost for International Aid, which, now mostly will be eaten up to contribute to the costs of the refugees. The entire Swedish justice and police-system costs 40B SEK ($5B) per year to set things in proportion. On top of this the local municipalities are on their hands and knees. There is no housing to offer and refugees are sleeping in school gymnasiums and in temporary tent camps. The municipalities are increasingly struggling to provide regular schooling and health care to its existing residents and it’s only expected to get worse.
How Syrian Refugees Are Received in the US
And just a note to compare the US with Europe. When the US recently decided to allow 10.000* Syrians to seek asylum in a US population of 300M, they were all thoroughly back-ground checked, and those admitted were being given $1000/per family, with help in finding work and housing, being allocated to places where other Syrians lived, or to places where the is an abundance of jobs and housing. After a year they are expected to become self-sufficient. They are initially given temporary residency, and after a couple of years, if they fill the criteria for getting a green card, for example being able to support themselves, and with no criminal record, they are allowed to become permanent residents. (And it takes five years as a green card holder before you can apply for American citizenship, which requires additional background checks, mandatory tests in history and civics, as well as swearing your allegiance to the United States).
The Integration Problem
Adding to the problems, Sweden is classified as the worst country in the OECD in terms of integration. 49% of the immigrants coming from outside Europe are unemployed, and in certain areas the number is 90%, which means that people end up living on government support indefinitely, often increasingly bitter, disillusioned and disenfranchised. It’s very difficult to enter the Swedish labor market due to fact that there are no simple and inexpensive entry-level jobs available, and government support with no requirements often turns paralyzing. It’s a deep human need for people to know that they matter, are needed, and that they can find dignity in being able to support oneself. As a direct consequence of the disintegration, there are now 55 areas in Sweden where police at least partially has given up its control, and ambulances to these areas must arrive with police escort. Essentially Sweden is moving closer to creating its own 55 versions of Los Angeles’ South Central.
Should Tribal & Religious Values trump Human Rights?
Many of the refugees that have arrived in the past 20 years stem from the Middle East and Northern Africa, with a cultural and religious background based on non-democratic tribal values, where women and girls, for example, are considered the property of men and where the honor of the families is directly linked to controlling the lives and the sexuality of girls and women. With the rise of Islamism in Sweden, a movement that has been supported by the Swedish government through unskilled and unchecked subsidies, the situation for the women and children living in these suburbs, as well as anyone from the LGBT-community, has deteriorated, with honor killings of women as well as forced child marriages. Sweden now has become one of the world’s biggest exporters not only of music but also of ISIS-warriors. Due to the cultural relativism, human rights are sacrificed in order to uphold religious and cultural rights.
You Can’t Save Everyone
This is a lengthy article, and not what I usually write about, partially because it’s negative (I believe there is a solution, which I’ll write about in a coming article), but I wanted my non-Swedish readers to get a better understanding of what’s going on and my Swedish readers to get a Swedish-American perspective. (And quite frankly, I’m writing this for myself to process how this could happen). This doesn’t mean that there isn’t a huge need to support the people fleeing a Syria that is falling increasingly apart day by day, or the other places people are escaping from, nor that there isn’t an enormous destruction of human dignity and human potential with having three billion people living in poverty, whereof many are living in regimes that are outright awful. However, Sweden can’t take on the burden of saving everyone, just as you can’t save the beggars as a visiting Buddhist Monk in India by giving away all your money.
The Intelligent Heart
With an intelligent heart, true compassion means a heart with a sense of intelligence and balance, (not righteousness or a desire to be popular and perceived as good) where politicians act with wisdom and are able to intuit a good balance. With that in place, we can initiate a deeper global discussion on what can be done long-term to support other countries in their humanitarian needs, which will require a raising of global consciousness levels, which means, among other things; tolerance, openness, respect for women, girls and the planet, increased education levels across the world and eventually a reframing of the entire nation-state, which also would remove the need for borders.
However, those concepts are at this point philosophical, humanitarian and spiritual ideas, which might take a couple of hundred years of human maturation to be able to put in place. It has nothing to do with the current job description that politicians are paid to deliver on, namely to balance budgetary realities, deliver on the safe-keeping, education and health-care of its citizens, not in the least for those who previously have arrived seeking refuge, and the upholding of International human rights and Swedish laws. Obviously there is also a human responsibility to act in a crisis and do what’s physically possible for those in need, but it cannot be at the expense of what the politicians were elected to do.
I’m ending with a quote from Max Weber, used by David Brooks, in his column in NYT, on the irresponsibility of the Republican Caucus in the US (while different, it is equally relevant for Swedish politicians).
In his masterwork, “Politics as a Vocation,” Max Weber argues that the pre-eminent qualities for a politician are passion, a feeling of responsibility and a sense of proportion. A politician needs warm passion to impel action but a cool sense of responsibility and a sense of proportion to make careful decisions in a complex landscape.
In these difficult times, with so many people suffering, and with a Swedish state on its hands and knees due to excessive giving and insufficient integration, it’s more important than ever to act with an intelligent heart and wisdom. There also needs to be a brand new vision in place to overcome these challenges, accompanied by a new crop of leaders, which I’ll come back to in another article.
Lotta Lovisa Alsén,
October 29, 2015
*The number admitted to the US, I would like to add, is way too low. The US, which has messed around in the Middle East for a long time and partially is to blame for the situation, should open the doors for at least 500.000 to a 1 million Syrian refugees.
PS. The information compiled above comes from SvD, GP, DN, Ledarsidorna and NYT, as well as my own reading from Migrationsverket and the Swedish police. Other sources for trying to grasp the bigger implications of what’s happening in the world are The Atlantic, The DailyBeast and The Economist. Any mistakes made in accuracy of numbers or facts are mine alone and if so, please let me know.