from war-torn Syria has led to an influx of asylum seekers in distant Sweden.
The Scandinavian country has acquired a reputation among Syrian refugees as a
welcoming haven, and it is the biggest host country for Syrians outside the
Middle East. Sweden now routinely offers permanent residency to Syrian
Up to 30,000 Syrians have come to Sweden since the unrest started. Most arrive by plane from Turkey after travelling clandestinely for months with the help of human smugglers – a journey which can set a refugee back thousands of dollars.
The Swedish Migration Board maintains arrival
centres across Sweden. The centres are
the first port of call for Syrians seeking asylum. At one, in the Stockholm
suburb of Märsta, there is a constant roar from the airplanes arriving at and taking
off from the nearby international airport. “It sounds like Syria,” says Alan.
you Google ‘I want asylum’ in Arabic , then ‘Sweden’ automatically comes up." Alan, 24 years old from Al-hasakah, Syria
The Märsta arrival centre is basic, clean and dreary. But the asylum seekers are only meant to spend a night or two here. The mostly young, mostly female staff aim to process their applications as quickly as possible so they can be bussed off to proper accommodation in towns across Sweden.
And so a new life begins.
We meet three Syrians who have just arrived at the centre in Märsta and two others who are about a year into their stay in Sweden and have started to learn the language and to look for work.
It took Asped three weeks to get to Europe. “My journey wasn’t dangerous, but it was a bit difficult. But, then, anyone could do anything to get to a safer place,” he says.
Asped’s family is still in Syria. “They have good jobs and own many properties. After years of working, just leaving everything to come to Europe feels a little heavy for them.”
Now, Asped lives in Stockholm where he is taking Swedish language classes and hopes to get a job in journalism or to continue his Master’s degree. But he sees his stay in Sweden as a temporary respite. “If the war stops, I think I will go back to Syria. They will need people to build up the country again. But since I’m here in Sweden now, I should learn the language and get integrated in society.”
Alan was in the second year of his law degree when the conflict forced him to end his studies. The fighting in his home town, al-Hasakah, had become so intense that simply leaving home had become extremely dangerous.
“Because I stopped going to university, I had to join the army so I decided to leave Syria,” says Alan.
Alan has spent around $9,000 in fees to people smugglers. When he arrived in Turkey, he encouraged his best friend to come as well. Three weeks later he found out on Facebook that his friend had stepped on a landmine near the Syria-Turkey border. “I think I helped him die because I told him to come,” says Alan.
Would he eventually like to go back to Syria? “I want to visit my friend’s grave,” he says. But Alan is not sure where his friend is buried. He cannot bring himself to call his friend's parents. “I can’t. I don’t know what to say. He was my best friend. His father was my teacher.”
Alan did not want to give his real name.
Khalid is now on the Syrian regime’s wanted list, he says, accused of high-grade terrorism - a crime punishable by execution.
Khalid has a brother in Sweden, but his other two siblings and parents are still in Deir ez-Zor. “They are living under a huge security threat,” says Khalid.
went straight to the arrival centre in Märsta to apply for asylum after
arriving in Sweden by plane from Turkey. He used a human smuggler to get out of
Syria. Had he stayed home he would have been forced to join the military and, he
says, “whoever goes to the military just goes to die”.
Daniel was a men’s hairdresser back home in Sueda. He hopes to find work in Sweden and to make a good life for himself here.
But if things improve in Syria, he would like to return, he says.
Text, video, photos and audio by: Nathalie Rothschild
Design: Ilan Moss