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Hallek, Ennio

Prominent Refugees, 7 November 1931

Ennio Hallek

Ennio Hallek

In the autumn of 1943, at the age of 12, Ennio Hallek fled to Sweden from Estonia together with his parents, his younger sister and older brother. His grandparents, who stayed behind, were subsequently killed. Hallek, who has made a name for himself as a painter and sculptor, now finds it hard to say whether he is Estonian or Swedish.

Hallek's father was a fisherman, but when the Russian army first occupied Estonia, his boat was sunk. During the subsequent German occupation, however, he managed to fix it and resumed fishing along the coast. When the family decided to flee, they set sail for the coast of Gotland, but oil rationing meant they were low on fuel and missed their target. As dawn broke, they realised they were alongside a German convoy. Hallek's mother, a dressmaker, quickly sewed a Swedish flag that allowed them to reach the Swedish coast without arousing the suspicion of the Germans.

The family was confined to a refugee camp for a year and after the war their boat was confiscated under a Soviet law. In this period, many Estonians fled to America but the Hallek family moved to Blekinge, a coastal region on the Baltic. He went to local schools and then moved to Stockholm, attending Signe Barth art school and the Swedish Art Academy.

Today, Hallek is an established painter and sculptor who has exhibited in Europe and America. His work includes murals for Stockholm's Stadion underground station, the University of Stockholm and the Astrid Lindgren Children's Hospital. A professor of painting at the Art Academy of Stockholm from 1981 to 1991, he is married to a Swedish woman and has a daughter and two grandchildren.

It was only in 1989 that Hallek returned with a delegation to Estonia, to Saaremaa to give advice on the restoration of churches. Since Estonian independence, he has held many exhibitions in his former homeland. Asked which nationality he belongs to, he says he feels neither Swedish nor Estonian. "In the 1960s and 1970s, when it was forbidden for Estonians to present themselves as Estonians they were Russians I used to present myself as an Estonian painter abroad. Nowadays, with Estonia independent, I present myself as a Swedish artist," he told UNHCR.




UNHCR country pages

Mahmoud's Journey: A Young Syrian Survives Being Shot At, Detained and Bullied to Find a New Life in Sweden

A photo essay by Shawn Baldwin and Johan Bävman

A photograph of Syrian refugee, Mahmoud, shows the nine-year-old looking wistfully out of the window of an apartment block in the Egyptian capital, Cairo. Perhaps he is thinking of happier days at school in his home town of Aleppo or maybe he is wondering what life will be like when he and his family are resettled in Sweden. When the image was taken late last year, Mahmoud had not been able to attend school for two years. His family had fled Syria in October 2012. Like 300,000 other Syrians, they sought shelter in Egypt, where life was tough - and became tougher in 2013, when public opinion began to turn against the Syrians as Egypt struggled with its own problems. Mahmoud became the target of bullies, even at one point being physically attacked. Afterwards, he refused to leave the rented family apartment in 6th of October City, a drab, sand-swept satellite suburb of Cairo.

Mahmoud's father tried to send him to Italy on a smuggler's boat, but the vessel was fired on and the traumatized boy ended up spending five days in a local detention centre. Once back home, he fell target to the bullying once more. But his case came to the attention of UNHCR and the refugee agency recommended Mahmoud and his family for resettlement. In January 2014, Mahmoud and his family flew to Sweden to begin a new life in the small town of Torsby, where he runs and plays outside without fear - he even had his first snowball fight. And now he is back at school.

Mahmoud's Journey: A Young Syrian Survives Being Shot At, Detained and Bullied to Find a New Life in Sweden

Sweden: Mahmoud's EscapePlay video

Sweden: Mahmoud's Escape

Mahmoud was one of more than 300,000 Syrian refugees who have sought safety in Egypt since the conflict in his homeland began three years ago. The nine-year-old was so desperate to attend school that he risked his life to get to Europe. He was stopped and sent back to Egypt but is now making a fresh start in Sweden.