Their new life in Växjö has begun
The three-room apartment on Nydalavägen on the outskirts of Växjö is very clean and tidy. The apartment has new wallpaper, a new fridge and freezer. The plate rack is emptied and a protective cloth covers the non-corrosive sink. Two big, plush-covered sofas take up the space in half the livingroom. The walls are adorned with artificial flowers in small hanging flower-pots. The well-used furniture has been bought through the Red Cross.
This is where Ismet, 28, and Bahrija, 27, have found their refuge after all the hard years of war and poverty in Bosnia. Four year old Erna has made new friends and attends a daycare center just around the corner. Ismeta, who is only four months old, can sleep safely next to her parents in the double bed.
It is a very long way to Bosnia, even longer to the Bronx in New York where Ismet's sister Saha has just arrived. Two new lives for the siblings, and also two new worlds and two very different models to receive refugees.
The good news came in a letter on January 18. A friend translated the crucial lines for them: You are allowed to stay in Sweden...
”At last we were able to start living again,” says Ismet, a rather serious man who has many thoughts about politics and war – but also a frequent smile.
Fact: 23 520 persons sought asylum in Sweden during 2001.
”I had been in Sweden for more than a year, Bahrija for almost a year and a half. We had seen how people around us were forced to go back one after the other. Bahrija had gotten her first application rejected and she appealed against the decision. The months passed and we didn’t hear anything. It was a difficult time.”
It was not until Ismet’s documents were sent directly, by mistake, to the Immigration Board, that something happened. He was summoned to an interview at the offices of the Immigration Authority in Malmö. This was November 24 last year.
Barely two months later he got his residence permit.
For Ismet and Bahrija and their two daughters their new life has just begun. Ismet, who used to be a carpenter in Bosnia, takes Swedish lessons for immigrants. He also works as a trainee four hours a day at the Resource Center in Växjö. At the Resource Center he produces and fixes things made out of wood, at this time of year mostly outdoor furniture.
”I learn the language there too. Later, when I can speak Swedish well and when we are no longer given financial assistance, I want to become a hairdresser. That would be a dream job.”
It is a very long way to Bosnia, even longer to the Bronx in New York
The money, which starts being handed out when the refugees have gotten a residence permit, is supposed to cover everything – including the rent, which is 380 dollars. Ismet and Bahrija recieve 1 500 dollars a month. Child benefit is included.
”It is just enough for us to live a normal life,” says Bahrija.
We have brought pictures of Ismet’s sister and her family, newly arrived refugees in New York. Everybody wants to look, point, and laugh. Erna stares for a long time at her cousin Azemina who is running down one of the streets in the Bronx.
Ismet, who hasn’t seen his sister since December, 2000, when they parted outside Tuzla in Bosnia, wants to know everything about how she and her family are doing now. How their journey went, where they are living, what kind of jobs they are hoping for...
How life is as a refugee in the US.
Fact: The average time to process an asylum application is about one and a half years in Sweden.
Ismet managed to flee to Tuzla in northern Bosnia in the warm and terrible summer of 1995. Both he and his parents and his five siblings managed to escape the massacre in Srebrenica. Like Bahrija and her family. She was among the women and children and elderly men that the Serbs bussed away, a nightmare journey through the prison camp in Potocari to Tuzla.
Ismet had walked seven days through the woods and the mountains to get there. In Tuzla he met Bahrija. They fell in love and got married. But life was hard, Ismet says. They lived together in a small house forty kilometers outside the city and had to manage on various temporary jobs.
It was not until last fall that they had saved enough money for Bahrija and little Erna to flee again. They could have ended up in Holland or Denmark or some other Western European country. The smugglers decide arbitrarily on the destination.
As long as you risk getting rejected you are not motivated to learn the language
The mother and daughter were transported through Europe locked up in a van and then dropped in a forest outside Malmö. After a couple of weeks at the Immigration Authority’s reception unit they were sent to Blekinge. The young family met again in a housing unit for refugees. Ismet had arrived in Sweden in December.
He too had traveled with smugglers, although in private cars.
Many refugees from Bosnia live in Växjö.
”We can socialize and help each other get integrated into Swedish society,” Ismet says, using a couple of words of Swedish here and there, but mostly using the language of his childhood. He seems a bit ashamed that his Swedish is so bad after a year and a half in the country, but he has an explanation:
”As long as you risk getting rejected you are not motivated to learn the language. Now that we can make plans for a life in Sweden we must be able to understand and make ourselves understood.”
Bahrija agrees. When she doesn’t have to stay at home with little Ismeta any longer, she too plans to study Swedish and do everything she can to get a job. Perhaps as a nurse at an old people’s home.
Fact: The chances of receiving a residence permit within the first year in Sweden was 30 percent last year, according to the UNHCR.
”If we both work and earn a lot of money we can send money home to our parents and brothers and sisters that are still in Tuzla,” she says.
”Yes, that is our responsibility because we were the ones who were given the opportunity to have a better life,” Ismet says.
Ismet and his family are lucky. They did not have to wait for a desicion from the authorities very long.
The wait is torture. Many people can't take it. Yet a lot of people are ready to try, to take a chance, to put all their efforts into getting into the new country, to be able to stay. If they are lucky.
Maria Trägårdh, Bo Lidén