Sweden in March: snow, wind and temperatures of 2-3 °C. It was the perfect weather for doing fieldwork, and Dr Annamária Neag went to Southern Sweden to continue exploring the lived media experiences of unaccompanied refugee children. One of the first exploratory meetings was organised at Ensomkommandes Förbund, an NGO that was set up in 2013 to improve the lives of newly arrived and unaccompanied young people. As it was a particularly cold day, upon arrival Dr Neag asked the president of the NGO, a 23-year old young woman from Afghanistan: “How do you cope with this weather?” “Well, if one has to choose between being safe or being cold, I’m sure that most people will choose this freezing weather”- she replied with a smile, and everyone would surely agree with her.
Dr Neag met with the president of the NGO at their community centre that was opened for unaccompanied refugee youth. The centre is managed mostly by unaccompanied young refugees, and it offers a range of courses, from Swedish to photography or modern dances. It is also a popular place to meet with friends after school.
This field trip to Sweden was the second phase of the EU-funded Marie Curie project on how displaced children (aged 14-18) use digital technology and (social) media. If during the pilot project in the Netherlands, Dr Neag got to know the work of guardians/mentors and Eritrean music and cuisine, in Sweden she was able to pinpoint better the impact national and local policies have on asylum-seeking young refugees. Sweden has been in the spotlight recently as it was criticised by international organisations for not enhancing enough the protection of asylum seekers. Moreover, its Finance minister recently declared that she regrets her government’s decision to let more than 160,000 refugees into Sweden, as integration is not working. While the migration debate is quite heated, one has to acknowledge the type of support given to unaccompanied refugee children. From access to digital technologies, private and public housing and a myriad of services/programmes offered by NGOs and volunteers, probably many other EU countries would have a lot to learn from this Nordic country.
As in the case of the Netherlands, Dr Neag was overcome by the dedication of the mentors and the volunteers who work tirelessly for these children. She also learned a lot from the young people themselves: about ambition, hope and hard work in trying to build a new life. The interviews offered a space where she talked with these young people about apps and social media, but meanwhile they shared stories about food and home and sometimes, struggles and sadness.
The next phase of the research will take place in Italy, the country with the biggest share of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.
I am much indebted to Patrik and his team, Mahboba and Malmö municipality for their support.- Dr Annamária Neag, Project Researcher
Photo credits: the author and Ensomkommandes Förbund.