Ellinor Fristrom talks to Afghan refugees in Sweden
I’m sitting in front of a small coffee table, the walls around me have a bright yellowish green colour and in one corner of the room there’s an open fire, next to it stands a Christmas tree. I’m on an Island called Gotland situated about 95 miles outside the coast of Stockholm. In front of me I have two boys, Mohammad and Saeed who came to Sweden for more than two years ago. They are Afghan refugees but neither of them has ever set foot in Afghanistan.
Afghans in Iran are mostly refugees who have fled wars in Afghanistan since the April 1978 Saur Revolution in Kabul. Mohammad and Saeed’s parents fled from Afghanistan and like many Afghan refugees in Iran both Mohammad and Saeed were born and raised there.
The boys came here alone and they met each other for the first time on Gotland. Mohammed is the oldest of three brothers and they are along with his mother and little sister still in Iran. Mohammad says it’s hard to keep contact with them because of Iran’s internet-censorship and they’re not allowed to buy SIM-cards. Saeed is the second youngest of eight siblings. One of his older brothers fled Iran and is now in Germany and a couple of his sisters are in Turkey.
”My family has become a bit divided” he says with a soft voice.
The journey to Sweden was long and difficult and refugees have put their trust in smugglers. For Mohammad the journey took about a month. He left Iran by crossing the Zagros Mountains over to Turkey and stayed two days in Istanbul before making his way with seven others to the seaport Izmir. From there they made their way over to the Greek island of Lesbos in a rubber boat.
“I was there for twelve days and during those days the Camps were full so we had to live in the woods and we didn’t have anything. No clothes, nothing and we didn’t have a tent. It was a disaster” Mohammad says.
From Lesbos he made his way to Athen by boat and then he began his journey through the rest of Europe first entering Macedonia then Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Austria, Germany and Denmark before finally arriving in Sweden. For Saeed the journey took about two and a half months but he made his way through Hungary.
Even though the boys arrived in Sweden during the autumn of 2015 it can take over two years before the migration authorities make an appointment for age assessment and by that time many of them have already turned eighteen and their cases are no longer treated as minors. In Sweden unaccompanied Afghan refugees under the age of eighteen are allowed to stay and in order to find out who are minors they carry out age assessments. But the tests are not always reliable. Håkan Mörnstad a odontologist who previously carried out the age assessments before the National Board of Forensic Medicine took over says that as many as 17 out of 20 ex-post evaluations he made upon requests contradicted their results. A miscalculation by a little as one month can be devastating.
“I was supposed to turn eighteen in August but they wrote that I turn eighteen in July, so now I have a rejection” Saeed explains.
Mohammad also received a rejection but he isn’t supposed to turn eighteen until September. Both boys are going to make an appeal. In Sweden refugees have the right to appeal twice before receiving a third and final decision.
“The migration authorities don’t believe us because I don’t have an ID card or a passport that I can show them” Mohammad says.
A 2015 report from the migration authorities in Sweden revealed that 99.1 % of Afghan refugees don’t have ID documents when they arrive here and one reason is that they are many times difficult to get issued. In order to get a passport in Afghanistan they need a birth certificate and need to be registered with the authorities. A lot of young people were born outside Afghanistan’s borders and didn’t end up in the country’s population records and the Iranian government does not grant them Iranian citizenship. This means they can’t go to school in Iran, own a car, a house, a bank account or even a SIM-card and it also exposes them to other dangers.
“In Iran I didn’t have an ID card so they would send me to Afghanistan or send me to Syria to fight against Daesh” (“ISIS”). Mohammad says.
Most Afghan refugees arriving in Sweden are now coming from Iran and according to the Swedish Afghan Committee Iran has started to treat Afghan refugees worse than before. Like many young Afghan boys in Iran Mohammad was given the choice between going to Afghanistan or being forced to recruit to the war in Syria on president Bashar al-Assad’s side. The Iranian government promises payment and residence permits if they fighting against Daesh in what they claim to be an endeavour to save Shia shrines in Damascus, the capital of Syria.
“There are many Afghans that go to Syria and fight against Daesh and there are many that die there” Saeed says.
The Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs has since 2006 advised Swedes not to go to Afghanistan and the Swedish Migration Board estimates that the situation in Afghanistan has worsened in the last year. Mohammad is in a particularly vulnerable position since he belongs to an ethnic group called Hazaras. They are a people primarily from the central highland region of Hazarajat in Afghanistan who are believed to be of Mongolian heritage. Hazaras who are predominately Shia-Muslims have been persecuted since the 16th century and are the victims of massacres committed by Sunni-Muslim terror organisations like the Taliban, al-Qaeda and Daesh.
”I have lived my whole life as an immigrant, I just want a place where I can live like a normal person”. Mohammad says.
The boys are today doing a preparatory course on Gotland to collect grades in order to get into college. Mohammed already has his goals set and wants to continue studying technology at University after he has finished college. Saeed on the other hand doesn’t seem as sure about what he wants to do but has a passion for music. He plays the guitar and sings, mostly Flamenco he tells me.
“He has written a song called “Longing for peace” Mohammed says.
Saeed and Mohammed are taking music lessons at Kulturskolan in Visby and this year they are going to enter a contest called “Imagine” together. They have also played parts in a theatre show called “Let us Live”. The play was a collection of several narratives depicting people going through different kinds of struggles.
“I thought it was a really nice piece and we did everything by ourselves” Saeed says.
He played the main character in the story of an Afghan boy. It begins with him sitting in class when suddenly a police officer played by Mohammed enters the classroom. Saeeds character was in love with a Swedish girl but the love story is cut short when it becomes clear that he is to be sent to Afghanistan. The play ends when he arrives in Kabul and an explosion goes off.