Sweden has just offered a glimpse of light in a somberly dark tunnel for the 2 million Syrian refugees displaced by violence and war. The Swedish government announced on September 3 that it would be granting permanent residency to any Syrian refugee seeking asylum that's already fled to Sweden.
This makes the Scandinavian nation the first and only country in the EU to have this kind of open-door policy for Syrians dealing with one of the worst sectarian bloodshed in modern history.
According to Annie Hoernblad, the spokesperson for the Migration Agency in Sweden, "The agency made this decision now because it believes the violence in Syria will not end in the near future."
Sweden has already granted permanent residency to half of refugees in the past year while the remaining half received three-year residency permits. This new international agreement means that approximately 8,000 Syrians who had previously received temporary residency permits will now be offered full and permanent residency. All refugees will also be granted the right to bring their families along with them. Although this new decision will only directly affect refugees who've already fled to Sweden, DW reports that newcomers will only also "benefit from the change in policy."
Although many weren't expecting this decision, it's not surprising to anyone who knows anything about Sweden. As Sven Hultberg Carlsson, a Swedish freelance journalist based in New York told PolicyMic, "We have a history of opening our borders during conflicts." Sweden's role in the Iraq war alone is astonishing. "There's a staggering figure showing that a small town in Sweden called Södertälje has accepted more refugees from Iraq than the U.S. and Canada put together."
This time around looks no different, as 14,700 refugees have entered Sweden since 2012, making it the country accepting the largest amount of asylum seekers (along with Germany).
Although Sweden's new policy is being hailed by humanitarian and immigrations groups, other countries have been stepping up as well. According to DW, Austria has accepted 200 refugees and Germany has committed to welcome 5,000 displaced Syrians.
Sweden's international agreement is attracting a mixed bag of reactions with some warning that being the first country to open its borders in the EU could mean an influx of refugees that the country can't handle. Others are celebrating Sweden's remarkable longstanding leadership in providing safety for families displaced by war.
Barbara Lochbihler, Green Party representative and a member of the EU parliament's foreign affairs committee says that providing refugees with more than just financial support is not enough. "When a military strike is being discussed, governments have to support Syrians. In light of the tragedy of the century, you can't just hope and feel sorry. You have to help concretely," she told DW.