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Strunke, Laris

Prominent Refugees, 10 February 1931

Laris Strunke

Laris Strunke

Laris Strunke, known as "the Painter of Gotland" because of his summertime studio there, lives and paints in the Swedish capital, Stockholm. As a 13-year-old refugee, son of renowned Latvian painter Niklavs Strunke, he fled his home country during the Soviet advance of 1943.

The Strunke family left Riga in the summer of 1944 and hid along the coast with other refugees until, in December, they found a boat. It was so overcrowded that many were forced to throw their belongings overboard. The family crossed the Baltic Sea and on November 10, 1944, arrived in Herrvik, a small village on the eastern coast of the Swedish Island of Gotland. A tin box of coloured pencils was the only personal possession that young Strunke was able to keep with him.

Strunke has lived in Sweden ever since. He continued to study art, which he had begun in Latvia, and attended the Art Academy of Stockholm. Today he is a renowned painter and his exhibitions have travelled to such places as Mexico, Budapest, Beijing, Canada and Australia. Strunke, who is a Swedish citizen, went back to Riga for the first time in 1989, when he organised an exhibition of his father's paintings.




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.