Hot Issue




Sweden is fortunate


During 2015 Sweden welcomed a great number of refugees. Many of the refugees were young people who came to Sweden unaccompanied. Two important actors in the struggle to create a good life for the refugees were and still are volunteers and local youth workers. This article is about their work.


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The situation in numbers

Sweden is fortunate. More than 200 years have passed since the nation was at war. Sweden has the last 75 years welcomed refugees from less fortunate countries in relatively great numbers. About 850 000 people applied for asylum between the years 1984 – 2014. For 2015 the prognosis said that about 95 000 refuges would come, which in itself was an all-time high. The actual number was even higher, 164 000 refuges applied for asylum, mainly during the last five months of the year. Many of these, roughly 35 000, were unaccompanied minors, e.g. young people coming alone without their family.

Understanding of different realities creates perspective of one’s own life.

Challenges and contributions from human to human

There are various ways to help the refugees, it is not only the Government or the State that promotes a positive refugee reception. Many volunteers, mostly youth, took part in the reception, in various ways, either individually or through their associations. For example, there were volunteers who delivered, cooked and served food at the Malmö Central station without the municipality’s or State’s intervention. Other volunteers gathered clothes, drove the refugees to their destinations, helped with the language and contributed to the reception of refugees. NGOs took away a great burden from the State and without their help, it would have been more difficult to receive so many refugees at the same time.

A good example of the work that young people did is when many collected Christmas gifts to hand out to refugee children and young people. When these young people handed out the presents they realized that refugee children and young people had it very tough in the camps. Families of more than eight people lived in apartments of 20-square-meter. In apartments like that usually Swedish students live individually when they move away from home for studies and many of them complain that it is claustrophobic to stay in such a tight space, how’s that for a family of eight people? Understanding of different realities creates perspective of one’s own life. A great benefit of volunteer work.

Three youth clubs – three different scenarios

Side by side with the NGO, the traditional publicly funded youth work exists. The newly arrived refugees are settled unevenly over the country. Some municipalities welcome but a handful, while others welcome thousands. Small municipalities can during a couple of months increase their population with 5% to at most 13%. This means that the preconditions for e.g. organised youth work varies greatly depending on the local situation. For one youth club the “usual crowd” still dominates the scene.

At another youth club, with an average of 30 – 35 local visitors per evening, there can be an addition of 60 – 70 new visitors from one week to the next; visitors who don’t speak Swedish and are not accustomed to the rules of the club. This has meant challenges for the youth workers, even more so, when it’s up to two professional youth workers and a trainee to create a stimulating time for everyone. No extra resources in sight. But after some time something happens. Some of the refugees have now learned the language good enough to communicate in Swedish and have become interpreters for both the other visitors and the youth workers. There has also been more communication between the local visitors and the refugees. One of the youth workers told us about last Saturday:
“It was Karaoke-night and we had Rap in Arabic, Pashdi and Swedish. It was quite a success.”

Sweden got younger during the fall of 2015

For another youth club there have been many changes. The club has for a long period of time worked with equality from a gender perspective. During the summer of 2015 around 45% of the visitors were girls. A high percentage by Swedish standards. During autumn the number of visitors doubled, from 100 to 200 on an average evening. Young refugees, mostly male and 17 – 20 years old, found their way to the club. And they found and still find their way quickly, just after a couple of days after they have arrived in the municipality. So the club now has both the “old crowd” of local boys and girls between 13 – 16 years of age and a “new crowd” of young refugees. Soon the youth workers realized that the club was a very important place in a young refugees life – they visit more often and stay a longer time. The youth club is really appreciated. This youth club is getting more funding from the politicians so a new room will be opened connected to the youth club and new staff members will be hired.
These three examples tell us something about what the great number of young refugees combined with the youth clubs great importance for them can mean for the youth workers.

The number of new visitors varies a lot between clubs, the the great importance seems the same.

In this short article we have tried to describe a great challenge for Sweden; to give the refugees in the early stages a dignified life, healthy recreation, education and good standard of living. If the State with tremendous wisdom invests in these children and youth’s future, a good start would be to create opportunities for them to live a good life as soon as possible.

These youth will build Sweden in the future and that is why it is very important that they already feel included as part of the society. They will only be included if there are clear efforts for their needs. In order for us to improve our reception, it is important that the State cooperates with many NGOs as they have a good experience of the practical work out on the field. Without NGOs Sweden had never managed to receive so many refugees.

It was and stills is a major contribution of the Swedish people in work with refugees, specifically young people. The professional youth workers can create meaning and build bridges between the old local youth and the new local youth. They are just doing their job, but under extraordinary circumstances. Sweden got younger during the fall of 2015 and it’s our duty to together make the most of this vitalization. Sweden is really fortunate.

by Lars Lagergren, Mediha Ahmadi & Rizwan Elahi (2016)

Hot Issue_Sweden_Author Lars
Lars Lagergren,  lecturer, Malmoe University. Has for several years worked with research on and evaluations of refugee reception projects connected to health and life quality

Hot Issue_Sweden_Author Mediha
Mediha Ahmadi has studied Leisure studies. Currently working as a project manager against racism. Very active in the civil society

Hot Issue_Sweden_Author Rizwan
Rizwan Elahi, student, international relations and Human rights
Currently working with society construction.

Photos:  group boys © Jazzmany /, protest © Cloud Mine Amsterdam /


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