Södertälje, Sweden, early this morning; it’s dark, cold, and rainy. We are standing outside an office, drinking coffee. Two of us are smokers, which is why we are outdoors. Many people greet us. Greeting people you momentarily pass by is still common here. A man comes along, different from the others. He appears like someone who might be senile, looking around like he is lost or as if he is searching for something. He is unshaven, wearing dirty clothes, and holding a broken umbrella.
He suddenly stops, right next to us. He overheard us speaking to each other in Arabic and he is asking if he is in the right place, if this is Södertälje. The refugee smuggler had put him on a train from Malmö to Södertälje Syd. Upon arrival he walked five kilometres from the station to the city centre. He asks us again; is this the right place, is this Södertälje?
We answer him, almost simultaneously, that he is in the right place. This is Södertälje.
He looks relieved, relaxes his posture a bit, but then falters. We offer breakfast, coffee, tea, anything. All he wants to know is if we have heard about his cousin who is said to live here. We don’t know him, but there is always someone who knows a person who does. So it is in this case too.
While we wait for the cousin to arrive he tells us about the escape from Syria, about the fear of the Syrian regime and the fundamentalists. He tells us of relatives being abducted, of how he witnessed his neighbours being slaughtered while he kept silent in a secret hiding place. “I’m not poor”, he says, “I had dollars saved.” His shop had been very successful.
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The worst bit is the escape routes, he explains, traveling in trucks packed with refugees and on sinking boats. Undignified.
For us, people living in Södertälje, these stories and human fates are something of a routine. We have heard similar stories told by newly arrived for over ten years now, ever since the fall of Saddam in Iraq. We have repeatedly warned that the politics, or rather lack of politics in the Middle East, could lead to genocide, to war, to endless misery. We have repeatedly warned that the flow of refugees to the neighbouring countries of Iraq and Syria will grow out of control.
The world is in chaos. We are in the middle of a catastrophic crisis with more people fleeing their homes than during the Second World War. The governments of the EU are perplexed. On the one hand willing to aid those in need, but on the other worried about the aftermath, both in terms of economic consequences and the problems arising from immigration. A fear of conflicts being brought to their own territory.
The man we met that morning asks us: “Why are they not stopping this war, why are they not fighting the evil growing powerful in Iraq and Syria? Why? Nobody wants to be smuggled across borders, I cannot think of a single thing more undignified than having to pee yourself during that nine-hour ride on the back of the smugglers truck.”
We all want to help in this refugee crisis, but you cannot cure a disease by medicating its symptoms. ISIS and other terrorist organisations must be stopped now.