We Need Global Solidarity for Refugees

As a European and a Swede (and an economist), I am struck by how often we discuss refugees in terms of the “cost” of accepting asylum seekers.

These conversations miss out on the many economic benefits of migration. Young refugees are often so inclined to start building their new lives that they integrate quite quickly into a new country with much to offer. We also miss the most important component of the conversation – the refugees themselves.

Wars, violence and persecution lead to people fleeing from their homes. A new report released on June 19, 2019 from UNHCR shows that 70.8 million people are now forcibly displaced worldwide – more than the UN Refugee Agency has ever recorded. Levels have doubled in the past 20 years and increased by 2.3 million people in the past year alone.

This year’s UNHCR Global Trends report states that these figures are conservative since the Venezuelan crisis is only partly reflected. According to data from neighboring nations, about 4 million Venezuelans have fled the country, which makes it one of the world’s largest displacement crises in recent history.

What do these numbers actually mean? 

The majority of individuals who are forcibly displaced are Internally Displaced People (IDPs) – people who are displaced to other areas within their own country. There are 41.3 million IDPs worldwide. Refugees – people forced to flee their country because of conflict, war or persecution – accounted for 25.9 million people worldwide in 2018 (half a million more than in 2017). Asylum seekers are people outside their country of origin who receive international protection but are awaiting the outcome of their claim to refugee status. They account for 3.5 million people globally.

Now, here are some important facts: 

  • About 80% of refugees live in countries neighboring their countries of origin
  • The world’s poorest countries host a third of all refugees worldwide
  • High income countries (like most countries in Europe) host only 2.7 refugees per 1,000 of population on average
  • In 2018, every second refugee was a child

Research shows that women and children are the most vulnerable in times of crisis. Sexual violence and rape is used as a weapon of war to further inhibit civilian populations to fight for peace and their fundamental human rights. One very recent case of this is Sudan today. 

Europe has seen a surge of refugees since 2014. Many have risked their lives in horribly overcrowded rubber dinghies to cross the Mediterranean Sea for safety – sometime without functioning life vests. UNHCR estimates that over 17,800 people have died at sea between 2014 and 2018. In this year alone, the UN Refugee Agency estimates that 559 people have died and are missing.

The largest group of people seeking refuge in Europe after crossing the Mediterranean are from Afghanistan.

The war-torn nation was recently reported as the most dangerous country in the world, and 2018 was the most deadly year ever recorded for civilians in Afghanistan.

So what is Europe doing to support asylum seekers from Afghanistan and those crossing the Mediterranean Sea? From what I understand and see in my daily life in Sweden – not enough.

This week, the Swedish parliament voted to extend a “temporary” stringent law which has been highly criticized by humanitarian aid organizations and UN Agencies. Sweden, Norway, Germany, the Netherlands, Austria and other countries in Europe continue to deport individuals back to Afghanistan – many of whom arrived in Europe as unaccompanied minors several years ago.

Sea rescues have been criminalized as NGO rescue ships are no longer permitted to work out of Italy. Pia Klemp, a German boat captain, faces 20 years in prison and horrendous fines for saving people from drowning in the Mediterranean.

Sweden is using old prisons to forcibly detain high-school attending, Swedish speaking young asylum-seekers from Afghanistan who await deportations. The wait may last several months and the migration and judicial system for asylum seekers is highly criticized. Racism is becoming more visible.

This week, a friend of mine who is an Afghani asylum seeker in Sweden was harassed by police for no reason as he got off a train. We later found out from migration officials that they have been ordered to intimidate asylum seekers so that they will be more inclined to return voluntarily.

Despite being an eternal optimist, I have a hard time seeing anything positive in this stark situation. The message that Europe is sending is that some lives are valued less than others – that some lives are just not important enough to be saved.

“While language around refugees and migrants is often divisive, we are also witnessing an outpouring of generosity and solidarity, especially by communities who are themselves hosting large numbers of refugees. We are also seeing unprecedented engagement by new actors including development actors, private businesses, and individuals, which not only reflects but also delivers the spirit of the Global Compact on Refugees,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugee Filippo Grandi.

“We must build on these positive examples and redouble our solidarity with the many thousands of innocent people who are forced to flee their homes each day.”

We are facing a European crisis that will cost us our solidarity, our humanity and our safeguarding of human rights. The price is too high. If we lose these, we won’t have anything of value left.

I am thankful to be a part of the Swedish Facebook group Vi står inte ut! (We can’t stand it!) which has become a network of 10,000 individuals working to support asylum seekers in various ways. It is through networks like this one that I witness solidarity and fire to fight for our sisters and brothers from other countries.

It is difficult to continue to read and share the stories of refugees, but we must speak the unspeakable, break the silence and fight for a change in our world today.

Could an App Help Diagnose & Treat Endometriosis?

Endometriosis is an often painful chronic gynaecological disorder in which tissue that normally lines the inside of a woman’s uterus grows outside of the uterus. The patient has to live with certain symptoms, like painful periods and ovulation, pain during or after sexual intercourse, heavy bleeding, chronic pelvic pain, fatigue, and infertility over time.

These symptoms can impact on general physical, mental, and social wellbeing. If left untreated, endometriosis can lead to further health complications, painful intercourse and infertility. According to the World Endometriosis Society and the World Endometriosis Research Foundation:

Endometriosis affects an estimated 1 in 10 women during their reproductive years,  which is approximately 176 million women in the world.”

Despite this, there has been little commitment to investing in basic research and there is currently no known cure for endometriosis.

Not only is there no known cure, diagnosis isn’t simple. This is because endometriosis symptoms are often dismissed as ‘just bad periods’. Symptoms can also be similar to those of other diseases.

At Sweden National Finals Creative Business Cup on May 8 2019, Sweden’s top 8 startups within the creative industries pitched their ideas to a ‘jury’ of investors. One of these ideas might just be able to validate under-recognised illnesses such as Endometriosis.

Endometrix

Endometrix is an app that aims to make endometriosis easier to understand. It can provide self-care advice on how to treat symptoms through adequate, accessible and individualised healthcare through the use of technology.

Behind Endometrix is a cool team from Stockholm with backgrounds in bio-entrepreneurship, media & communication and healthcare. Witnessing the inadequate gynaecological care and a lack of everything from validation to awareness, choices and treatment, they created an innovative tailor-made solution for a slow-moving, conservative industry.

Meet the Endometrix team.

Do not undermine the power of women turning to one another to share their knowledge and emotions with each other. Endometrix was born with this connective mindset. Our vision is that every woman receives adequate care by sharing their experiences and progress with one another.” – Moa Felicia Linder, Co-Founder

I was told, the only time you look at what someone else has is to see if they have enough. I looked, and found that there wasn’t enough; there has been unequal treatment, unequal pay and unequal care for women. Through Endometrix, I want to change at least one of those things.” – Sushrut Shastri, Co-Founder

I had an incredible six years helping people working as a registered nurse, but there came a point where I wanted to be able to help people on a larger scale. Ultimately, to provide people with easier access to adequate care. I hope to achieve just that through Endometrix.” – Mitchell Isakka, Co-Founder

At the core of their solution lies the personal experiences of endometriosis of different girls and women. “We sent out the survey to which a lot of people responded and that was the basis for training a machine learning algorithm,” says cofounder Sushrut Shastri. The app uses machine learning, an automated system that uses data to answer questions. By using data from over 700 individuals, Endometrix identifies patterns and teaches themodel to learn how each user manages these symptoms.


Its 80% accuracy reduces the time it takes to reach diagnosis. It has potential to expand to other gynecological conditions, such as Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), Adenomyosis and all sorts of infections.

Machine learning in healthcare is not something new. It has been playing an integral role in for at least 5-10 years. In the case of Endometriosis, the Endometrix app gives users access to information from the experiences of others who are overcoming similar challenges. It also helps to curate a wellness plan (diet, fitness, medication and meditation) and bust myths around endometriosis. “The future of machine learning used in healthcare is to help doctors to work together with doctors”, says cofounder Sushrut Shastri.

Using the full potential of artificial intelligence, and machine learning in particular, often requires addressing certain issues. However, health is fundamentally different from other areas since it concerns the understanding of diseases and treatments.

Machine learning technology can help tremendously with under-recognised disorders like endometriosis and provide doctors with the evidence they need to help girls and women.

Sweden Deports Victims of Child Marriage and Torture to Afghanistan

[Sweden] please just kill me. I would rather die than be sent back to Afghanistan.

Those are the roughly translated words of an 18-year-old refugee in Sweden who fled child marriage, violence and abuse. After 2 years of uncertainty in Sweden, she has just received a deportation order. She is to be sent back to the hell she fled from in Afghanistan. This young woman has learnt Swedish and wants no more than to give back to her new society. She wants peace, freedom and safety.

Sweden has a long reputation for taking strides in humanity, gender equality and human rights. In 2014, Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt called upon Swedes to open their hearts to the surge of refugees arriving in Europe. Yet, in the past years Sweden has reversed its stance, closing its borders and limiting the options for asylum seekers to stay in the country. Nils Muiznieks, Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, is concerned about these developments. Read his 2018 report on Sweden.

Sweden is sending civilian asylum seekers back to war torn Afghanistan, even as insecurity has increased in recent years.

A new UN report documents 2018 as the year with the highest recorded number of civilians killed in the Afghan conflict. The report also shows the increased toll of the conflict on children.

To make matters worse, Sweden is also sending back refugees who face grave risks should they return to Afghanistan. This includes girls who have fled child marriage, young LGBTQ individuals, and those who have converted from Islam.

Sweden can no longer take a prize as a leader for human rights, if this torture continues within our borders. Many refugees who receive deportation decisions arrived in Sweden as minors and have lived in the country for years. Many have learned to speak the language, and built networks through schools, churches, sports clubs and human rights organizations. However, these asylum seekers are not believed or deemed trustworthy as they tell their stories to Swedish authorities.

Many suffer from ill mental health due to the uncertainty of their lives and the many risks they face.

Karolinska Institutet released a report in February 2018 showing the alarming number of suicides among refugees in Sweden. The suicide rate among unaccompanied refugees up to the age of 21 was 51.2 per 100,000 in 2017, compared to 5.2 per 100,000 among the same age group of the general population in 2016. If these frightening statistics are not evidence of stories of war, torture and abuse, I don’t know what is.

Desperate to avoid deportation, some turn to the media to tell their stories. This increases the risk of being found by their perpetrators and family members. The ones who believe they deserve to be killed in the name of honor for leaving their marriages or religion.

Sweden cannot take a prize as one of the best countries for women, either. That statement only refers to women of privilege and women who already live in safety. If Sweden deports girls (and boys) who have been victims of child marriage in Afghanistan, we are not acknowledging the human rights violation that affects 35% of girls. We are ignoring the fact that these refugees lack the support networks they need to avoid abuse and violence upon returning.

In the Joint Way Forward agreement between the EU and the Islamic State of Afghanistan it is agreed that: “Unaccompanied minors are not to be returned without successful tracing of family members or without adequate reception and care-taking arrangements having been put in place in Afghanistan.”

As child marriage is an institution built by families, the family is not a safe space to be returned to.

This also applies to those who have come out as LGBTQ or who now identify as Christian. Death threats among these groups of refugees are commonplace and returning is not an option. What we need to do is believe them when they share their stories and use our privilege to advocate for them.

Sweden needs to act now to avoid sending people to face violence or even death in the name of honor.

Learn even more:

Post-Election Sweden: No Longer a Compass for Equality

The election in Sweden on September 9th has left the country in disarray – with neither of the two traditional political blocs gaining enough majority to form a government. Instead, the rise of the Sweden Democrats, the populist party which has led its campaigning with anti-immigration politics and scare tactics, has led the country into a political gridlock after gaining 17% of the country’s votes and becoming the third largest party in Sweden.

With close to every 5th person in Sweden voting for a party that stems from a nazi movement and stands for racist and sexist values – it is clear that Sweden should no longer be crowned for equality, inclusiveness and openness.

The Sweden Democrats have not only gained ground in this election, they have pushed the whole political debate towards the objectification of people – asylum seekers, immigrants, people of color, Muslims, women – and grouping people against each other.

Politicians have suggested harsher immigration control, rather than discussing human rights and the actual need for little Sweden to increase its population to sustain its economy – or even the economic growth we have seen (largely due to the increase in migration).

A negative and angry tone of insensitivity and prejudice has infiltrated our country’s corridors of power and blinded our leaders, inhibiting them from seeing all people in a positive light – with the same rights and the same obligations. Facts are distorted and groups of people are demonized. The political discourse has seeped down into all levels of society, enabling hateful rhetoric, open discrimination and abuse.

We can be angry about the outcome of this election, and I’m absolutely certain there are many people who walk the streets of my home country scared.

It is more than time to change the conversation. We need to talk to each other. We need to understand the facts. We need to share each other’s stories.

We need to be careful not to sit back in the comfort of our privileged lives and ignore suffering. We need to listen. And those of us who can need to act – in solidarity and with love.

Racism is alive and thriving in Sweden. Sexism and misogyny too. My stomach aches. This is Sweden 2018.

Yet, I’m reluctant to end this post here. Because this isn’t the end, it just means that there is work to do – there has always been work to do, it just became more visible for all of us. So, I’m going to get cracking.