Posted: 23 June 2017

Meeting the young refugees of Sweden

Astrid Palluzzi and Georgina Klein - practitioners from our Stratford and Birmingham service - share stories from their recent visit to Sweden, as part of a Europe-wide exchange between organisations that support refugees.

Young refugees in international transition

The aim of our study visit to Skellefteå, in Swedish Lapland, was to share knowledge of policies and practice with other organisations related to young refugees across Europe. What we found was interesting. 

The organisations that we met

On 30 May, we met with the other organisations taking part - COOS, IB and Caritas. We gained excellent insight in to the importance of promoting autonomy and integration of individuals and groups of individuals in the local community.

REFUGEE ORGANISATION ABOUT FIND OUT MORE
COOS COOS provided housing, psychological support, education and training for adult refugees in Italy FIND OUT MORE
IB IB support young people including refugees to access education and employment in Germany FIND OUT MORE
Caritas A German umbrella group providing vocational training, school-based social work, housing, young migration services, lobbying and promoting youth and social work FIND OUT MORE

Meeting the local refugees

We visited a nearby youth centre, where local children and refugee adults engage in activities such as theatre courses, sports and human rights classes, with an aim to prevent isolation, improve well-being and help them immerse in local life. The young people’s voice is clear; when we entered one centre, we had to take our shoes off at the door because the young people think it makes the place feel more like home.

Statue in Sweden of child refugee

Statue in Skellefteå of a young refugee

Our final visit was to a theatre project for refugee girls. We heard their poems, raps and a stunning piano recital. We also saw beautiful paintings created by one young Afghani girl, who had never painted before arriving in Sweden. 

Painting of two women in an art galery

paintings of night sky in an art gallery

Paintings from one refugee girl 

The young girl told us about her journey to Sweden and showed us her paintings. She only started painting two years ago, when she arrived in Sweden alone and used them to communicate when she could not speak Swedish.

What we found

Since 2015, around 163,000 refugees entered Sweden, many from Afghanistan. The Swedish Migration Agency used to process their arrivals, house and feed them, and offer activities for adult asylum seekers and families. 

The Swedish borders were later closed and now around 29 unaccompanied children arrive per month. If the Migration Agency think there is reason to question their age, then they will conduct an age test which includes x-rays and dental examinations - for comparison, in the UK medical and child experts have repeatedly called the ethics and efficacy of bone and dental x-ray to assess age into question.

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All unaccompanied children have a guardian, to help them access health appointments, schools, and their social workers. This has been a statutory service since 2008. The guardians are non-professionals, appointed by a board in the municipality, and they receive a small wage provided by central government. 

Children aged 14 and above go into shared accommodation, the arrangement of which sounded similar to shared houses in the UK, with regular supervision from a responsible adult. Children under the age of 14 are placed in foster care.

Empowering young refugees

There was a strong sense of a will to empower refugees. A lot of this happened through education - with language classes, human rights classes, environment classes, banking knowledge classes, and computer clubs. Refugees are supported to utilise their existing skills, so those with IT skills might be in charge of a class and teach others what they know.

Two young male refugees working at a table

Two young refugees utilising one of Sweden's education classes

We heard of several refugee young people who have learned to swim then gone on to train and become swimming instructors and teach others. We were able to hear from one young girl from Afghanistan, who is now running her own swimming class for other young female refugees. 

Stronger together?

There's a still a lot that needs to be done to ensure the best possible future for young refugees in our care, and sharing best practice with other organisations across Europe may be fundamental to how we approach this. 

By Rupinder Parhar - Policy team
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