Luleå: The pearl city of sanctuary

We’re in a terrible and anxious time. We are in a time when we don’t know what is going to happen next. Thousands of people have died so far. Millions are under lock-down. Millions of people have lost their jobs. There could be many untold stories. The covid-19 pandemic is the cause of all of these. In the face of this invisible, lethal common enemy, our races, beliefs, religions and geographies do not matter. Neither do our political orientations, economic and military powers, scientific and technological advancements and sophistication.

From my experience, such challenging situations give us the chance to reflect and meditate. It has forced me to go back to 2017 this time.

Three years ago, a slim man in his sixties was waiting for me at the Stockholm airport with my name written on a piece of paper. We had communicated several times for several months via the email, but we didn’t see each other in person before. That man (named Jan Olofsson) travelled from the north to welcome me. After some hours, we flew together to ‘our’ home city and arrived at 16:20 at Kallax airport in the beautiful city of Luleå on the coast of northern Sweden. That city is the capital of Norrbotten County. It was 5 pm local time when we reached the house, which the Luleå Kommun (Luleå Municipality) hired for me at the heart of the city. The tranquillity I felt that night and afterwards was enormous.

Now, when I ponder over the pandemic, several questions pop up in my mind. Is it only covid-19 taking the lives of thousands every day? What about poverty? What about lack of health facilities in the developing world, which is the cause of the death for thousands of mothers? What about the DICTATORS who are the cause of all evils in their countries? You can add to the list. These latter are taking many more lives than covid-19 every day. There are 70.8 million forcibly displaced people worldwide, according to the UNHCR. 37,000 people are forced to flee their homes daily due to conflict and persecution.

There have always been individuals, organisations, communities and countries who have been doing all they can to help others who face persecutions, threats, hunger, diseases; who are forced to flee their homes. One such organisations is called ICORN (the International Cities of Refuge Network). There are more than 70 cities which have joined ICORN. These cities give their crucial support impartially. To them, being human being at risk is enough. There are several cities and municipalities in Sweden which are members of this organisation. One of them is Luleå Kommun. It joined the network and took the initiative of offering shelter in the form of residencies to persecuted authors, journalists, bloggers, photographers, curators, artists, actors, directors, etc. That’s how I went to Luleå. The love and support I received cannot be explained by words. I am more than grateful to the Kommun and everyone there. I hope the Kommun will continue its noble initiative and be a sanctuary to other writers and artists at risk.

This merciless enemy is also teaching us lessons that we often neglect or underestimate in the ‘normal time’.

I believe that the covid-19 pandemic has created an unprecedented phenomenon in human relations. It seems to me that we are now closer in spirit than we were before regardless our geographies. We are more united than divided. We are feeling the essence of ‘being human’ towards each other than ever before as human beings. There are so many people who are extending their helping hands in whatsoever form to others. We are not only sympathising, but also empathising for each other.

Yes, our common enemy requires our common efforts to defeat it. We need to mobilise our knowledge, resources, and above all our goodwill in unison to defeat it once for all. I think this is not a choice; it is an obligation.

Covid-19 will be history soon when a vaccine and/or medicine is developed. And yet, poverty and dictators will continue to kill human beings unless we take concerted efforts like what we are trying to do with covid-19. We must not forget our old enemies – poverty and dictators being at the front. We need to learn the lessons we gained from organisations like the ICORN and combine with new experiences so as to defeat existing and unforeseen enemies.

27 April 2020

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