Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Amid Europe's Migration Crisis, Child Refugees Beat Path to Sweden's Door

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Amid Europe's Migration Crisis, Child Refugees Beat Path to Sweden's Door

Article excerpt

Last summer, when tens of thousands of unaccompanied children from Central America crossed the US border, it triggered an immigration crisis.

Today Europe faces its own immigration crisis, on a much larger scale. And there is a similar wave of children making the dangerous journey on their own from their war-ravaged homelands to claim asylum, particularly in liberal Sweden.

But while many of the "unaccompanied minors" from Central America were seeking to reunite with extended families in the US, the youthful arrivals in Sweden often have an inverse goal: to secure refugee status so that they can bring their families with them to their new haven.

"Honestly, the main reason I came to Sweden is to be able to bring my mother here," says Omar Nagar, a 17-year-old Syrian who arrived in August in Malmo, a city just a bridge away from Denmark and the principal entry point for refugees into Sweden. "Someday I hope to become a doctor," he adds, "but my first dream is to bring my mother so she can live a peaceful life."

Sweden has already registered more than 8,000 unaccompanied foreign minors entering the country this year and is on track to take in more than 12,000 by the end of December. That's about 50 percent more than last year, and triple the number that registered in 2013.

"At the beginning of this year we were receiving about 40 children a week, but by the summer it became 40 a day," says Carina Nilsson, the commissioner for the welfare and care of minors for Malmo.

Afghan children account for the largest portion of minors arriving alone in Malmo, followed by smaller numbers of Eritreans, Syrians, and Somalis. "We are finding that Afghan families send sons as young as 12," Ms. Nilsson says. (So far, relatively few of the Syrians to arrive in Sweden are unaccompanied minors. Most Syrians are either 18 or older or are families traveling together.)

Dangers at homeMany of the children here are like the "lost boys" of Sudan, adolescents seeking safety and a future after their home countries denied them both.

One of those is Rahmat Moradi, a 16-year-old Afghan boy who arrived in Malmo in January. His father was an interpreter for American and British forces in Afghanistan's war-torn Helmand province. Rahmat enjoyed learning English from his dad, but he was also aware of the threats his father received from the Taliban to stop working with the "pagan" forces.

As the dangers the family faced grew, Rahmat says he faced troubles of his own. The boy's sweet face and small stature drew the leering eye of an Afghan general, who sent soldiers around to take Rahmat for the general's "entertainment."

"He told me to dance for him, but I said no, I won't do these bad things," Rahmat says. "But then he put a gun in me here," he says, indicating his side. Lowering his head, he adds, "So I danced for him, and he did so many bad things to me."

In the end of 2013, Rahmat says, the Taliban came to his house in the night, beat his parents, and took his father away. Rahmat was sent first to live with neighbors for a few days, but then he was sent to Turkey - and on to Sweden. As he seeks asylum in Sweden, he knows nothing of what has become of his mother and the rest of his family. …

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