Our local newspaper today announced that the number of refugees accepted in our city of Örebro has more than trebled in the last 12 months, compared to the previous year. 2005 saw only around 200 refugees, and although the agreement for 2006 was for 375 new arrivals, the number somehow grew to over 630. That puts Örebro in fifth place in Sweden, after the three big cities (Stockholm, Göteborg and Malmö) and another town called Södertalje.
Its hard not to compare this situation to our other hometown of Tamworth, Australia, which recently decided not to accept refugees, triggering a media frenzy in Australia. Örebro is three times as large as Tamworth and has a tradition of accepting refugees that dates back to the Balkan wars of the early nineties. The refugees arriving now are not from the Balkans, of course. I have already mentioned Iraqi refugees in another blog.
Not all the communities in Örebro county have taken refugees. It seems that smaller towns are regarded as less able to accept them, and less able to provide the type of integration services that they need. Perhaps it would be better to compare to Tamworth to such communities. It is certainly ill equipped to accept refugees and there is little if any infrastructure to integrate them into the community.
Infrastructure is certainly needed if integration of refugees is to succeed. Where does that come from? How has it been established in Sweden? Where can Tamworth start, if their previous decision is reversed, as is the hope of many? Accepting refugees and successfully incorporating them into the local community certainly takes more than sympathy and kindness. But that is where it starts. Compassion. A willingness to share, not just our own wealth and prosperity, but also the suffering and messiness of those who come.
The good thing for Tamworth, and for Örebro is that they have the privilege of deciding, and of preparing. Not like the countries bordering the many war zones of the world where refugees in their thousands just turn up one day…