Stockholm – In a bold and generous move, Sweden announced last week that it would grant asylum to all Syrians fleeing that country’s two-year civil war.
UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Gutteres has called the Syrian refugee crisis “the great tragedy of this century.”
Sweden, population 9.5 million, has already welcomed more than 14,700 Syrian asylum seekers since 2012, compared to 33 Syrian refugees admitted to the United States, population 314 million, this year.
“All Syrian asylum seekers who apply for asylum in Sweden will get it,” Annie Hoernblad, a spokeswoman for the Swedish migration agency, told AFP. “The agency made this decision now because it believes the violence in Syria will not end in the near future.”
All Syrian refugees entering Sweden under the new policy will be granted permanent residency status, a departure from the government’s previous policy of allowing refugees to remain in the country for three years, pending individual case evaluations.
The newcomers will enjoy all the benefits of the vaunted Swedish ‘welfare state,’ from universal health care to free or subsidized housing, education and other services.
Sven Hultberg Carlsson, a Swedish freelance journalist based in New York, told PolicyMic that his Nordic homeland has “a history of opening our borders during conflicts.” Carlsson pointed to the Swedish town of Södertälje, population 65,000, which has reportedly accepted more refugees from the Iraq war than the United States and Canada combined.
Tobias Billstroem, Sweden’s migration minister, urged other countries to step up and fulfill their duty to Syrian refugees.
“No other conflict on earth today is as terrible as the long and bloody conflict in Syria,” Billstroem said last week. “That should make many politicians, inside and outside the EU, think about our responsibilities.”
Earlier this week, Germany announced it would accept as many as 5,000 Syrian refugees by the end of this year. More than 8,000 Syrians have already resettled in Germany.
The United States, which has contributed some $800 million in aid to the refugees, will accept as many as 2,000 Syrians for permanent resettlement. Canada, which has provided $100 million in aid, will take in 1,300 refugees over the next two years.
But by far the largest number of Syrian refugees have made their way to countries either bordering or near their homeland. Nearly 600,000 people have resettled in Lebanon, while nearly half a million people fled to Jordan. More than 400,000 Syrians are currently in Turkey, around 200,000 are in Iraq and an estimated 88,000 have made their way to Egypt, which, although experiencing its own political turmoil, is relatively calm in comparison to Syria.