The Swedish ski resort of Riksgränsen opened its doors to refugees in 2015 – a temporary solution for the country’s government overwhelmed by the arrival of 164,000 refugees in just a few months.
With not enough centres to accomodate them all, Sweden’s most northern ski resort took in some 600 refugees mostly from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and even some from Eritrea.
Euronews meets refugees in Sweden
One of the people Euronews met earlier this year was Mokdad Ayad Al Jobri who had fled Iraq.
Like most of the refugees here, the 29-year-old had made the perilous journey from Turkey to Greece and then through Europe until he reached Sweden in October of 2015. His wife and young children stayed in Baghdad.
At Riksgränsen he was employed as a cook along with fellow refugees and friends in the resort’s hotel.
Mokdad said he hoped to be granted asylum: “For starters, I need to get my resident permit and then bring my relatives, my children and my family here, and look for a job.”
Almost one year later, we are back in Sweden. Not in the far north this time, but in a town called Fagersta.
When we first met Mokdad almost a year ago in the north of Sweden, he was hoping to be reunited with his wife and two children. We wanted to find out what happened to him since then. And we found him in this refugee centre about a two-hour drive from Stockholm. Since we’re not allowed to film inside, we asked him to come out and tell us about his life since he’s been here.
Mokdad has been here since the middle of February 2016.
His friend Sameh, who is Syrian, helped translate. Mokdad doesn’t speak English or Swedish.
They think the reason we were not allowed inside is because last year, the centre was over-crowded: some 600 refugees in a place that had room only for half that number.
They say the conditions are better now, but still we couldn’t film.
Mokdad explained: “The work contract we had with the hotel was a temporary one. When it ended, they redistributed us throughout Sweden. Some went to the north, others to the south and others to the west because when the ski season started, they had to leave the hotel.”
Valerie Zabriskie, Euronews:
“Are you disappointed that you are here at this centre?”
Mokdad Ayad Al Jobri:
“I am disappointed about my residence permit because maybe I won’t get it at all. Here at the centre, the food is pretty good, it’s [the conditions are] okay.”
For Mokdad, these past months have been anything but happy.
“Happy? What is there to be happy about? My family, my children are far away. It’s true I’m safe here, but this is not the case for my family and children,” said Mokdad.
Without a resident permit, Mokdad has little access to language classes and job training.
He and his friend say they spend most of their day either inside, talking to family back home or walking around the town centre.
And of course with the question ever-looming, why does it take so long?
Arido Degavro is a lawyer who specialises in asylum seekers’ rights. He says the sheer number of refugees that arrived since the summer of 2015 is the main reason for these delays.
Refugees, such as Mokdad, need to be appointed a lawyer then granted an interview with the immigration board. A decision after that can take months or even longer.
And of course it depends on where the refugee comes from.
Baghdad is very complicated because right now the immigration board is considering Baghdad as relatively safe, but it’s not according to human rights organisations who have made many reports regarding Baghdad,” Arido Degavro told Euronews. “But Baghdad is relatively safe according to the immigration board.”
Sweden tightens asylum laws
Since last year, refugee visas must be reviewed every three years, some every 13 months. This wasn’t the case before. And refugees from so-called safe countries face deportation.
Back at Fagersta, we show Mokdad the report made last January in Riksgransen.
A place where most refugees saw snow for the first time.
For Mokdad, his time in the north of the country is filled with good memories. And he has kept in touch with some of his fellow refugees, others not.
The Syrian interviewed in this report lives in the north with his wife and baby. They have their residency permit. Ali, another Iraqi, lives in the centre of Sweden. His residency status is also still pending.
“When I worked in the kitchen, I was very motivated and I thought they would keep me,” Mokdad told Euronews. “But they transfered us. I don’t know what happened.”
Valerie Zabriskie, Euronews:
“What still gives you hope?”
Mokdad Ayad Al Jobri:
“I don’t have any hope or motivation. Because it’s been one year and two months that I have been waiting for an interview. And even if I get one, how much time before they make a decision? A year? Seven months? Six months? Who knows?
If Mokdad does get his resident permit, there is another long process: that of family reunification.
While Mokdad says he doesn’t want to leave, the waiting is getting harder and harder.
“There is a law in Sweden in the Aliens’ Act which says that if you work four months during the asylum process in the same company, and you have a contract for at least one year and your salary is okay, then you have the possibility to apply for a work permit even if you get your asylum application rejected,” Arido Degavro told Euronews. “But if you cant speak English or Swedish it will be very difficult for you to find the work. And for those who cant speak those two languages, they will often find themselves just sitting and waiting.”