When Sweden struggled to cope last year with an unprecedented influx of asylum seekers Emil Julin felt he had to act. He tells The Local Voices why he started working at an accommodation centre for refugees, and why he thinks more Swedes should do what they can to help.
Emil Julin is popular with the newcomers at the centre where he works and readily admits that his motives for working there are somewhat utopian, but he doesn’t regret a thing.
“I think everyone with the ability to help should take a stand in the current crisis,” Julin says.
'I didn’t choose to be Swedish'
He likens the recent asylum seeker spike to a bridge, with a beginning and an end, and argues that more Swedes need to support the bridge to keep it from collapsing.
“We Swedes are spoiled. We’ve never knowns hardship like the catastrophe of war.”
It’s too easy, he says, to just follow the news on television and switch off when it becomes too uncomfortable: having the good fortune to grow up in a peaceful country isn’t an excuse for opting out of the world’s problems.
“I didn’t choose to be Swedish. Who chooses their nationality?”
Why so much distrust?
Julin says it pains him to hear people he knows casting doubts on the gravity of the war in Syria, or questioning the honesty of people who have fled their homes.
"Sometimes I hear comments like, 'oh, those refugees lie'. Oh, really! And who among us has never lied.”
He describes the Syrian war as “a winter laden with bombs” and says he tries to talk to despairing newcomers to reassure them that “the sun will rise again”.
The warmth he feels from the people he helps at work is offset by the intolerance shown by some of his compatriots. But he is convinced that people who actively work to repel immigrants are in a small minority.
“Swedes are not racists; they are just confused. People here are not used to a situation like this.
“When I meet xenophobes I ask them, what is Sweden to you? What makes it feel Swedish? The pizza is not Swedish, the kebab is not Swedish – many things we are used to here do not come from Sweden, but now they are part of it. Xenophobes have got it all wrong.”
He believes people need to overcome irrational biases to see the contribution immigrants make to society.
“Without these people Sweden would turn into a cold and grey place – there wouldn’t be any warmth. I don’t think this country needs tougher migration laws at all.”