Lessons in a Life: A World Without Borders

In the 1970s I lived in Sweden. I went there to live with my boyfriend. He later became my first husband. Entry into the country on a visa was easy. Since I was living with him, I had no problem. Had I been a refugee the process would have been a bit different but not too much more difficult had I been able to prove refugee status. After six months my visa was renewed for another six months. Permanent residency took a lot longer to achieve. We waited somewhat nervously for the authorities to approve my staying on. Eventually, after several years, full residency was granted.

As soon as I entered the country and applied to stay on, however, I was automatically granted entry into the system, into the state medical plan, into the sick leave plan, into higher education should I want it, into Swedish language classes. If I remember correctly I could vote too, at least in local elections. There were schools for retraining. Had I arrived with no discernible means of making a living I could have retrained, for free, in any number of occupations or skill sets. It’s a Socialist country after all.

The Buddha reminds us that we are all compassionate beings... - Photo by Jan Ketchel
The Buddha reminds us that we are all compassionate beings…
– Photo by Jan Ketchel

The Swedes have had a working system in place for dealing with migrants and refugees for a long time. During World War II they began taking in people fleeing the Nazis. I knew of a couple, in their late fifties when I met them, who had escaped from Germany, as seventeen year olds, along with a group of other children of all ages, led by members of the underground, all heading to Sweden where they were welcomed with open arms. They traveled on foot for weeks during the cold winter months. The woman, Dora, lost several toes from frostbite. She and Herman met on that long trek, fell in love and married upon arrival in Sweden. They were inseparable.

They told of being compassionately cared for upon arrival, given everything they needed, though they were frightened and couldn’t speak the language. They were given the opportunity for new life and they never forgot it. They spoke always with gratitude for the compassionate people who had risked their own lives to help them along the way and for the Swedes who took them in. They did learn to speak the language fluently and eventually became Swedish citizens.

Sweden, whose population had been slowly dwindling, had invited in foreign workers during the 1960s and 70s to temporarily work in the car manufacturing plants, providing badly needed labor making Volvos and Saabs. By the time I arrived their intake system was well established and pretty seamless.

I read in an article in The Telegraph the other day, that along with Germany, another country that also took in guest workers during the 60s and 70s, Sweden is one of the key destinations for the Syrian migrants as it is offering permanent residency to all Syrian asylum seekers. That’s compassion. It has already gotten 64,700 requests for asylum. For a small country that’s an awful lot.

The article in The Telegraph addressed the dilemma that the Danish police faced as they tried to stop the migrants, who had come by ferry from Germany, from entering Denmark. The migrants had no intention of staying in Denmark; they just wanted to pass through. Many were attempting to walk along the highways in the direction of Sweden when they were stopped.

After a while the Danish police released the migrants. They did not want to fight or harm anyone. They let them stream into their country. They opened their borders for that moment and let the people go to whatever fate they chose. No borders that day.

There is no easy solution to what is happening to the Syrians and others who are running as fast as they can from the approaching apocalypse, as they see it, but perhaps the compassionate Danes, in stepping aside and letting those desperate people travel safely through their country, offer one solution. And perhaps that’s all it will take, at least for the time being, making decisions based on what is right in the moment. True, they could have also let in ISIS adherents traveling among the migrants, but they took that chance for the betterment of some many hundreds of lives.

It’s always time for compassion,

Read the article here: Denmark Blocks Motorway

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