The Big Refugee Picture: Seven Conclusions From a Swedish-American Perspective

The heart-rending image of Alan Kurdi, the 3-year-old whose dead body washed up on shore, had to be one of the saddest pictures anyone has ever seen. There is absolutely no meaning in his death, but let's take this one terrible picture, as black and as difficult as it is, and try to put it in a context with the bigger picture. There are (at least) seven conclusions we can draw from the big picture which perhaps can help us avoid more tragedies in the future.

1) The big picture. The world has to find a way to help the refugees during this humanitarian crisis. Immediately. Not doing anything is not an alternative. It might sound like a cliché, but it's all too easy during all the debates, discussions and back-and-forth to forget that this is about human lives.

2) A temporary problem. Today's refugee crisis is hopefully not a permanent problem. As is stated on the American State Department's webpage, permanent emigration to a new country is only a solution for a few refugees, since most refugees get aid in the countries they have fled to until they safely and voluntarily can return to their home countries. This has to be the main goal: to allow refugees to return to a secure life in their own home countries.

3) Sweden's role. Sweden already currently welcomes the largest number of refugees per capita of any country in the world outside of the conflict regions. Sweden needs to keep doing its part, mainly by serving as an example for other countries in the EU and the world. Increasing the number of refugees in Sweden in the current situation is not a long-term or sustainable solution.

4) The EU's role. The EU as a whole, and not just individual member nations like Sweden and Germany, needs to reach a more proportional shouldering of the burden which is created by taking in hundreds of thousands of refugees. It's time for Sweden to put its foot down in no uncertain terms. Also, the EU needs to do a much better job of stopping human smugglers, who exploit the desperation of refugees. There should be draconian penalties for human smugglers, while at the same time refugees are given other alternatives for seeking protection.

5) The USA's role. The USA has to do more. The USA takes in 70,000 refugees each year, which is less than a small country like Sweden. Especially considering that the USA has contributed to the refugee stream through its failed foreign policies, the USA should take in significantly more refugees. The USA should focus a little less on how it can accommodate immigrants who are in the country illegally (i.e. non-refugees) and a little more on how America can take responsibility when it comes to the world's refugee problem. Rather than protecting convicted felons like Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, American cities which adopt "sanctuary city" policies should become true sanctuary cities for legitimate refugees who actually need refuge.

6) Best use of resources. Helping refugees will be a combination of various measures, but we should look for the best "value for money" when it comes to using our resources. This includes helping people on site. No, this doesn't mean giving someone a sandwich and a tent in a war zone. But it can mean helping people flee a war zone, or helping build up a region which previously was a war zone so that refugees can return.

Most refugees are in countries which are geographically near their own and which often have the same language and/or religion as the refugee's home country. It was only natural for Sweden to accept refugees from Norway, Denmark and Finland during the Second World War. "On site help" also means helping Syrian refugees who are in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey through direct aid and through helping these overburdened countries with the necessary infrastructure. We also should urge other wealthy countries in the region such as Saudi Arabia to help and to take in refugees.

It is absolutely wrong to thumb one's nose at "on site help" (as some have done in Sweden). If there had been sufficient on site help in Turkey and the refugees could have had a tolerable existence there in the hope of a better future, maybe Alan would still be alive today.

7) Solve the core problems. The current crisis is not a natural catastrophe, but is totally and completely man-made. In everything which is being written and featured in the media, this fact sometimes seem to be relegated to the background. To the point: the core problems which are themselves causing the waves of refugees need to be solved.

In a discussion on a recent show on Swedish television, Extra: The Refugee Crisis, featuring a large panel of experts, diplomats and politicians, only Amjad Eshmawa, a Syrian refugee in Sweden, pointed out that the end goal has to be to eliminate the conflict in Syria. He's right. We have to find ways to stop people who torture, kill and force other fellow human beings to flee. All those who compare the current refugee crisis with the Second World War need to see that everything has to be on the table, including military action, when the world is confronted with radical psychopaths who possess various kinds of weapons.

Sweden won't be able to solve the situation in Syria by itself, but Sweden should join NATO. With apologies to the Swedish poet Birger Sjöberg and his Frida, Sweden can no longer be "neutral."

The streams of refugees are now a tremendous problem; our goal should be to make this into a temporary problem. Solve the core problems, and let the refugees eventually go home.

This article originally appeared in Swedish on the Swedish website nyheter24 and can be found here.