HUFFINGTON POST

Some Syrian Refugees Struggle With New Life In Sweden

"My chances of bringing my children here have been diminished -- almost disappeared.”
A refugee checks his cell phone at the prayer hall after arriving to Stockholm central mosque on Oct. 15, 2015.
A refugee checks his cell phone at the prayer hall after arriving to Stockholm central mosque on Oct. 15, 2015.

STOCKHOLM -- Sweden’s government announced in November that the country needed “respite” from the influx of refugees, and would be toughening measures to deter asylum seekers. While 80,000 people had arrived in Sweden in the two months prior to the government’s announcement, there are migrants who are now deciding to turn around and settle in the Middle East instead.

While the stricter asylum laws concern them, some refugees and migrants interviewed by HuffPost Arabi believe that language barriers and cultural differences also represent serious impediments to their assimilation into Swedish society.

Nael Hamadi, 28, carried small dreams and big plans for the future on his journey from Turkey to one of the refugee camps in the city of Jonkoping, in southern Sweden.

"Practically speaking, I need seven or eight years to start my life here, and that’s an amount of time I am not willing to waste." Nael Hamadi

Hamadi, who holds a B.A. in engineering from Syria's Damascus University, recently decided to leave Sweden and head back to the Middle East. “I might go back to Turkey, or to Lebanon," he told HuffPost Arabi. "I don’t know exactly. But I will go back to a society that’s a better fit for me."

Saying that “starting from nothing here is something I couldn’t bear,” Hamadi explained that there are still “long years of waiting ahead.” It would take a year for him to be granted residency, and another year for family reunification. He left his wife and 3-month-old daughter in Turkey.

“And then there will be many years until I learn the language, evaluate my degree, and find a job," he said. “Practically speaking, I need seven or eight years to start my life here, and that’s an amount of time I am not willing to waste."

Hamadi’s journey to Sweden was not easy. He said that he paid thousands of dollars to smugglers and put his life at risk for months.

“I spent more than nine hours swimming in waters when the boat that was taking me from Turkey to the Greek island Mytilini tipped over," he said. “I needed to get here to learn that this country isn’t a promised land."

“I can make a living for myself and my family anywhere," he went on. "I don’t have to wait.”

Hamadi said that he has requested to revoke his application for asylum, but he must wait for the request to be approved before he can leave.

A refugee washes his face at Stockholm central mosque bathroom on Oct. 15, 2015, after a long bus journey from the south
A refugee washes his face at Stockholm central mosque bathroom on Oct. 15, 2015, after a long bus journey from the southern city of Malmo.

Samar, 32, who hails from Aleppo, Syria, has not yet put in a request to revoke her asylum application, but she says she will soon. “My decision came in reaction to the latest governmental decision," she said. "My chances of bringing my children here have been diminished -- almost disappeared.”

According to the Swedish government's announcement, most asylum seekers will only receive temporary residency permits starting in April. Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven said that the right to bring families to Sweden would be severely restricted.

“I journeyed across half the world, using unlawful measures, to guarantee a better future for my children," Samar said. "After the latest amendments to the migration laws, I have lost this chance. And I definitely won’t stay here without them, and I won’t try to bring them over unlawfully. It’s impossible to even think of that."

"I faced death a number of times on the way here," she went on. "We spent four days lost in the woods of Macedonia, without food. I won’t risk the same happening to them. That’s why I’ll go back.”

Samar has been in Sweden for five months. She spends most of her time talking to her children -- Hayam, 8, Hala, 5, and Rabei, 4 -- via Skype. They live in Gaziantep, a city in southern Turkey, with their grandmother.

"It’s difficult to learn the language and to find jobs. I’m losing hope that I’ll be able to fit in here." Hamza Agaan

Abu-Adel, 48, has also made the decision to take his family back to Turkey. Sweden is not right for them, he tells HuffPost Arabi. He is a father to three teenage girls and a younger son.

“I cannot raise them here. The great margin of freedom, which borders on chaos, has turned into a ghost that haunts me everywhere I go,” he said. “The independence that children get, and their freedom to do as they please, and the constant threat of losing my children if I force them to follow our customs and traditions, has become a nightmare that keeps me up at night.”

Abu-Adel said he is used to the “conservative society” he was raised in, and that “sexual freedom is [his] biggest fear.”

“I will take them and go back to our region,” he said. “I won’t allow one of my daughters to have a relationship with a young man under the guise of friendship. And I can’t imagine myself sitting in the spectator chair if my son decides to drink alcohol. Everything is allowed there, and I can’t possibly go on like this.”

Hamza Agaan, 22, also feels that he's unsuited to Western lifestyles. “I cannot live like this," he said. "People are very different in this country.”

He described the people he has met as “antisocial, introverted and lacking in communication skills.” He says that in the seven months he has spent in Sweden, he hasn’t been able to sustain a relationship with anyone.

Agaan also said he can't adapt to the way of life in Sweden. “Streets are empty past 6 p.m. There are no coffee shops. Even bars don’t operate except on the weekends,” he said. “Simply, this is the land of boredom and misery. It’s difficult to learn the language and to find jobs. I’m losing hope that I’ll be able to fit in here."

“The many hardships that we face as migrants, starting from the challenge to find housing in cities to the rampant racism directed at us of late, has pushed me to make the decision to leave," he went on. "I will go back to my family and my friends, and I’ll try to build my future in a country that I understand, and which understands me. This is surely a different planet, one that contrasts greatly from where I came from.”

This story first appeared on HuffPost Arabi. It has been translated into English and edited for clarity.

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