Opening speech by Alice Bah Kuhnke, Sveriges ungdomsråd's national congress

Stockholm, 29 October 2015
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I’m very glad to see that so many committed young people from all parts of Sweden and from a number of other countries such as Spain, Denmark and Turkey have gathered here in Stockholm for this important conference.

The last few months have been extremely dramatic with tens of thousands of people fleeing from war and terror arriving at our borders, horrifying attacks on asylum accommodations and refugee centres around the country, and most recently the massacre at the primary school ”the Crown” in Trollhättan. In this troubled time the work of youth councils in Sweden and in other countries are more important than ever. In particular the task of promoting democracy and the inclusion of all have never been more important.

Some of you come from Stockholm. Some of you come from other parts of Sweden and some of you have travelled here from other countries. Let me ask two questions:

How many of you did pass the Central train station on the way here and noticed all the refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan that seek shelter there? (Please raise your hands)

How many passed by a Roma migrant begging in the street, on your way here? (Please raise your hands)

Even though Sweden is situated in the remote northern outskirts of Europe we have never been isolated from the rest of the world – this we learn from our history. But today it stands clearer than ever that we are part of a global context that we cannot isolate ourselves from. War and oppression in other parts of the world, leading to millions of people fleeing for their lives results in significant numbers of refugees arriving also to Sweden.  The forecast says that somewhere between 140 000 and 190 000 refugees will arrive here only this year.

The many Roma migrants who beg in our streets and the many people fleeing from war and oppression in Syria and neighbouring countries forces us all to take a stand. Who do I want to be as a person? One that turns my back on people in deep need and distress or one that cares and do my best to support and be compassionate. The situation also forces our whole society to choose direction. For the government that I represent this choice is clear. Sweden will be a country that stands up for and provides a safe place for people in need and distress.

Sweden will without doubt face significant challenges receiving and taking care of the many refugees who have arrived recently and who will continue to come. To manage this in a good way, all parts of society have to work together and have important roles to play: the national government, authorities at various levels, the business sector and civil society.

Those who are new in Sweden should not only be provided with housing, income and education. It is also very important that they become part of the civil society and feel part of democracy. Many of those who arrive in Sweden right now are young. Here I think that The Swedish association of Youth Councils and the local youth councils has very good potential to make an important contribution.

I've been talking about Sweden as a part of the global community. The ongoing refugee crisis also shows how important cooperation within the EU is to meet common challenges. I was therefore very pleased when I saw that the theme of this conference is: “YOU and the EU - On European politics”.

Finally, I want to thank you for inviting me to hold an opening speech at this conference. The program of the conference looks very exciting, and I am sure that the conference will give all of you lots of energy, knowledge and new ideas to take back to your important work with youth councils all around the country. Democracy needs to be protected and developed, more people need to be involved and we must do this together. All of you that are here today, as well as the rest of civil society in Sweden has an important role to play in this work.