Swedish bikers to raise awareness about refugees during world tour

News Stories, 30 August 2007

© UNHCR/E.Larsson
Around the world through 80 countries. Swedish bikers Gustav Roken (left) and Marcus Bernestom.

STOCKHOLM, Sweden, August 30 (UNHCR) Student Marcus Berneström and stockbroker Gustav Röken have set off from Stockholm on a round-the-world motorbike trip during which they plan to raise awareness about UNHCR.

Friends, relatives and supporters gave the Swedish duo, who have dubbed themselves the "Dusty Travellers," a rousing send off in central Stockholm on Wednesday evening.

Riding trial bikes supplied free by Austrian manufacturer KTM, they will zip over to neighbouring Norway and then up to northern Scandinavia before heading down through Eastern Europe, across the Middle East and Asia to Japan, where they will fly to Alaska.

They will ride down the west coast of the Americas to the southernmost city of Ushaia and then up to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. The final leg will take them up through Africa from Cape Town and across Europe to Sweden.

The two plan to visit about 80 countries and say they hope to get a greater understanding of the vast social and environmental challenges facing the world and to pass on this knowledge to others who cannot travel.

They will be visiting UNHCR and UNICEF (UN Children's Fund) projects during their travels. "Please help us support their work," Berneström, 29, and Röken, 25, write in their special website.

"We chose these two organizations because they work with two very vulnerable groups of people," said Röken. "We thank them for their interest in the situation of refugees worldwide and in particular for their planned efforts to draw attention to the plight of refugees," added Hans ten Feld, UNHCR regional representative.

Stockbroker Roken said a key element of the trip would be to speak to individuals and record these encounters on film and in media articles.

The two men had been mulling the idea of a long trip for a while. Berneström studies management and civil engineering, but he has a family background rooted in helping the less privileged in places like the Philippines and Kenya. They decided to combine an adventure with a humanitarian mission.

The two are aware of the dangers and hope to avoid conflict zones. "Our greatest concern is the traffic. It varies so much from one country to another," said Berneström. "We are trying to minimize the risks as much as possible by preparing well."

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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.