THE welcome given to refugees arriving in Sweden was praised this month by the Canon Theologian of Leicester Cathedral, the Revd Dr Andrew Wingate.
After spending some days in the country, which hosts more refugees per capita than any other European country, Dr Wingate said that he was “increasingly ashamed of our British record”.
He said: “When I go to Sweden, about three times a year, I am struck how successive governments of right and left have maintained this open-door policy to asylum-seekers, in spite of pressures from the Swedish Democrats, who hold 13 per cent of the seats in parliament, and can be likened to UKIP."
During his most recent visit, he saw refugees arrive by train at Malmö (where two-thirds of all asylum-seekers to Sweden register), where they were met by volunteers from diverse backgrounds. One man spoke of spending $8000 on his journey. At St Clara’s, opposite the station, Dr Wingate met Deacon Inger, who is helping new arrivals, and refugees from Congo and Iran. The church was “full now, on a Sunday, with people from all over the world”, he said.
Among them is Fade, a 28-year-old Syrian Orthodox Christian, whose family financed his journey after he was called to serve in the army. A trained nurse, he must learn Swedish before working, and the choir at his Church of Sweden parish is currently his main point of contact with his new community. Dr Wingate saw Fade’s new home: a room he shares with four men in a converted hotel/restaurant that houses 200 people.
“The whole place seems claustrophobic,” Dr Wingate said. “They can travel free at weekends on buses, but only after 5 p.m.; so they have two hours in the city before returning. But Fade does not complain, and is enormously grateful for the church, and the priest’s family.”
He has returned more convinced than ever that Britain’s response to the refugee crisis must change. “To use the accident of geography that has made us an island, to put up such resistance even to a phased receiving of those who have come to Calais, is, I find, indefensible.”
He made his comments before the announcement by the Swedish government that it needed "respite" from the large numbers seeking asylum in the country.
“We are adapting Swedish legislation temporarily so that more people choose to seek asylum in other countries," said the Prime Minister, Stefan Löfven, on Tuesday. "We need respite.”
Sweden, which has a population of less than ten million, expects to receive 190,000 asylum applications this year. Under the new regime, in place for the next three years, refugees who do not arrive under the EU quota scheme will be given temporary residence permits, rather than asylum.
“It pains me that Sweden is no longer capable of receiving asylum seekers at the high level we do today," said Mr Löfven. "We simply cannot do any more.”
The deputy prime minister of the Green party, a junior coalition partner in the Government, Åsa Romson, broke into tears as she announced the change.
Earlier this month, Sweden imposed temporary border-controls for the first time in 20 years. The government had warned that it could not guarantee to find accommodation for newly arrived refugees.