From Jordan's desert to Sweden's winter - a refugee family's story

News Stories, 7 June 2005

© UNHCR/R.Vilkenas
Yaseen, Rana and their two children enjoying their first winter in Kristianstad, Sweden.

KRISTIANSTAD, Sweden, June 7 (UNHCR) Six months ago, the lives of Yaseen and his family took a turn they never expected. After a life in refugee camps without knowing what the future would bring, he, his wife Rana and their two children were resettled to Sweden. They moved from the Jordanian desert to the Swedish winter in less than 24 hours. "We were lucky," says Yaseen.

The 30-year-old Iranian Kurd was only a child when his parents fled Iran. He was brought up and spent most of his life in Al Tash camp in Iraq and does not remember much of his home country. He lived in the Iraqi camp for nearly 20 years, until the 2003 war that saw deteriorating security and affected the provision of basic supplies to the camp. Yaseen and Rana were among the many refugees who had to flee again, this time towards Jordan. Along with more than 1,000 refugees, they were trapped in the no man's land between Iraq and Jordan. A solution to their situation seemed beyond reach and they were now living in a remote desert area, tortured by scalding temperatures in the day and wintry conditions at night.

But their luck changed. On November 24, 2004, after nearly two years in no man's land, they arrived in the small town of Kristianstad in the south of Sweden. Now, half a year later, they are living a normal life. They have their own three-room apartment and the children are going to nursery school. They are paying bills and have an income like most families in Sweden.

But compared to native Swedes, they have more baggage and have to try harder to get by smoothly in society every day. The last few months have been a time of adjustment, struggle and misunderstandings, but also achievements, happiness and relief. They consider themselves lucky and can finally afford to be optimistic about their future.

"After a few weeks my daughter asked me when we would go back to the camp and visit our friends. I got a bit upset and asked her if she wasn't happy to have a roof over her head, food on the table and a bed to sleep in.... And she was," says Yaseen. He admits he also thinks about the camp and of course misses friends and relatives he had to leave behind. "I think a lot about my brother who was left behind in the no man's land camp, about what will happen to him. I wish he also will be lucky and be able to come to Sweden or some other country, and that he will get a chance to start again."

(At the end of May this year, all 743 people remaining in the no man's land camp were transferred to Ruweished camp 60 km inside Jordan.)

A self-taught artist, Yaseen looks at the world through an artist's eyes. "Sometimes when I walk around town, I think about how different the world can seem. They are different worlds, different times. In some way I'm part of both. Here, I'm walking among tall buildings and I'm surrounded by advanced technology. But at the same time, my mind is used to life in the camp, which compared to this, is to go back a hundred years in time."

He adds, "I dream that one day, I will be able to make a living with my art." This is a dream he has had for many years. But this dream has to wait; first he has to learn Swedish. "It is the most important thing right now. To know Swedish will be my key to success."

Yaseen goes to his Swedish lessons every morning and to a conversation group in the afternoon. "Next time we meet I will talk to you in Swedish," he says with a smile. He has already learnt a lot. He thinks his earlier knowledge of English has been a great help in learning Swedish. Another explanation is determination, hard work and an understanding of the importance of mastering the local language.

Yaseen shows us a bunch of letters which he keeps in a bag. He is looking for something that will state his and his wife's income during the last three months. Finally he finds what he is looking for; he will need it to apply for an additional allowance to pay a dentist's bill. To fill in forms, visit the authorities and pay bills are things the family has to learn in order to stand on their own feet. Rana's niece, who has lived in Sweden for 10 years, has been a tremendous help. Another person who can help out when a letter needs to be translated, or an appointment has to be booked, is Yaseen's Swedish teacher. Without their help, they do not know how they would have managed in the first couple of months.

Meanwhile, Rana is completing her induction course, which provides information about basic structures and how to cope in Swedish society. For this, they get an induction allowance which is equivalent to a salary and is therefore dependent on their attendance in class. Before Rana could start her course however, she had to wait for the kids to be placed in nursery school. Now she can leave them there every day. "They like it and I trust the teachers, I'm sure they are taking good care of my children." At this point, neither Rana nor the children can speak to the nursery school staff, but she hopes she will be able to do that soon.

They want to help their children to become part of society, to be able to join all activities the municipality can offer, like swimming lessons, day trips in the area and language training. Yaseen and Rana have been informed about these activities at the induction course, but so far their children have not been able to participate.

However, Rana is sure that these initial difficulties will fade away and that the family will be able to integrate in Swedish society soon.

By Regina Vilkenas
UNHCR Stockholm

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