Lago had a chance to speak with Obama on Tuesday ahead of the Swedish mayor’s scheduled appearance on Capitol Hill Thursday to discuss the Iraqi refugee crisis.
“He said word for word that he was ashamed that the United States didn’t take greater responsibility for Iraqi refugees. Then he praised Sweden and Södertälje for how we’ve dealt with the issue,” Lago told the TT news agency.
Södertälje, a town of 80,000 residents, has taken in more Iraqi refugees than the United States and Canada combined, a fact which has come to light in several US media recently, and the motivation behind Lago’s invitation to testify before the Congressional panel.
“The senators posed questions about how we in Södertälje can take in so many Iraqi refugees,” he told the news agency TT.
Joining Lago at the hearing organized by the US Helskinki Commission were representatives from the US government responsible for refugee issues, as well as the Washington director of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
“I explained that Sweden will continue to have a generous asylum policy and that we need immigration, but I also discussed the difficulties with arranging housing, employment, and schooling when so many refugees come at the same time,” said Lago.
The Helsinki Commission is US government agency that monitors human rights and security issues of concern to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and includes members from the US Senate, and the House of Representatives, and US government agencies.
According to Lago, the senators were impressed that Sweden had taken in more refugees than the United States.
“They promised during the hearing to try to increase the number of refugees received to 12,000 this year,” he said.
Sweden received around 19,000 asylum seekers from Iraq last year.
Although Obama was not a member of the US Helsinki Commission, Lagos’s thoughts returned to his meeting earlier in the week with the senator from Illinois, whom Lagos calls his “favourite candidate”.
“He even tried to pronounce ‘Södertälje’,” said Lago.