"Hello Sweden – to feel home in a new country"

News Stories, 8 July 2014

© UNHCR/Z.Adami
A scene from the movie "Shadi," part of the 'Hello Sweden' project, which highlights the plight of unaccompanied refugee children arriving alone in Sweden.

Stockholm, Sweden, July 8 (UNHCR) School children in Sweden are seeing the world through new eyes the eyes of refugees, thanks to a groundbreaking UNHCR educational project that aims to combat intolerance.

'Hello Sweden', conducted in cooperation with the anti-bullying organization 'Friends' and funded by the Swedish Postcode Lottery, offers schools a short movie, a comic book and a stage play that convey the experiences of unaccompanied refugee children in Sweden. With one third of all secondary schools in the country ordering materials, the project has been a big success, appearing on the European Commission website as an example of good integration practice.

At a secondary school in a middle class suburb of Stockholm, students who have seen the play about a girl who flees her war torn homeland for Sweden find that they can relate to her plight. "Even though the play is about an unaccompanied refugee girl, you do not have to be a refugee to understand what it feels like to be alone, not knowing anybody," says Edvin, one of the students. "It has to be twice as hard to come from another country and not know the language."

For students at this school, the play strikes a personal chord following the recent arrival of three Syrian refugee boys. One of their classmates, William, feels encouraged to help them fit in. "We cannot communicate with words, so we do it through football," he says. "One of the boys got really happy when he scored. He smiled and I smiled back, and we connected, so now we try to talk and he has actually already learned the words 'free kick' and goal'."

And this is just one school. Across Sweden, the play has been shown in 170 schools and theatres to 16,000 students. A further 92,000 parents have received a 'Hello Sweden' information leaflet.

The 'Hello Sweden' campaign comes at a crucial moment in time, as the number of refugees seeking asylum in the country rises and anti-immigrant sentiment takes hold in Europe. In an attempt to boost awareness, UNHCR is now working to export the project to other countries.

The hope is that it will not only create solidarity and equality in the schoolyard, but in the local community and society as a whole. As Agnes, one of the students, says: "You cannot do everything, but everybody can do something for somebody else. Small things can make big changes."

Lisa van Hogerlinden in Stockholm




UNHCR country pages


Almost half the people of concern to UNHCR are children. They need special care.

Refworld – Children

Refworld – Children

This Special Feature on Child Protection is a comprehensive source of relevant legal and policy documents, practical tools and links to related websites.

Iraqi Children Go To School in Syria

UNHCR aims to help 25,000 refugee children go to school in Syria by providing financial assistance to families and donating school uniforms and supplies.

There are some 1.4 million Iraqi refugees living in Syria, most having fled the extreme sectarian violence sparked by the bombing of the Golden Mosque of Samarra in 2006.

Many Iraqi refugee parents regard education as a top priority, equal in importance to security. While in Iraq, violence and displacement made it difficult for refugee children to attend school with any regularity and many fell behind. Although education is free in Syria, fees associated with uniforms, supplies and transportation make attending school impossible. And far too many refugee children have to work to support their families instead of attending school.

To encourage poor Iraqi families to register their children, UNHCR plans to provide financial assistance to at least 25,000 school-age children, and to provide uniforms, books and school supplies to Iraqi refugees registered with UNHCR. The agency will also advise refugees of their right to send their children to school, and will support NGO programmes for working children.

UNHCR's ninemillion campaign aims to provide a healthy and safe learning environment for nine million refugee children by 2010.

Iraqi Children Go To School in Syria

The Children of Harmanli Face a Bleak Winter

Since the Syrian crisis began in March 2011, more than 2 million people have fled the violence. Many have made their way to European Union countries, finding sanctuary in places like Germany and Sweden. Others are venturing into Europe by way of Bulgaria, where the authorities struggle to accommodate and care for some 8,000 asylum-seekers, many of whom are Syrian. More than 1,000 of these desperate people, including 300 children, languish in an overcrowded camp in the town of Harmanli, 50 kilometres from the Turkish-Bulgarian border. These people crossed the border in the hope of starting a new life in Europe. Some have travelled in family groups; many have come alone with dreams of reuniting in Europe with loved ones; and still others are unaccompanied children. The sheer number of people in Harmanli is taxing the ability of officials to process them, let alone shelter and feed them. This photo essay explores the daily challenges of life in Harmanli.

The Children of Harmanli Face a Bleak Winter

Erbil's Children: Syrian Refugees in Urban Iraq

Some of the most vulnerable Syrian refugees are children who have sought shelter in urban areas with their families. Unlike those in camps, refugees living in towns and cities in countries like Iraq, Turkey and Jordan often find it difficult to gain access to aid and protection. In a refugee camp, it is easier for humanitarian aid organizations such as UNHCR to provide shelter and regular assistance, including food, health care and education. Finding refugees in urban areas, let alone helping them, is no easy task.

In Iraq, about 100,000 of the 143,000 Syrian refugees are believed to be living in urban areas - some 40 per cent of them are children aged under 18 years. The following photographs, taken in the northern city of Erbil by Brian Sokol, give a glimpse into the lives of some of these young urban refugees. They show the harshness of daily life as well as the resilience, adaptability and spirit of young people whose lives have been overturned in the past two years.

Life is difficult in Erbil, capital of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. The cost of living is high and it is difficult to find work. The refugees must also spend a large part of their limited resources on rent. UNHCR and its partners, including the Kurdish Regional Government, struggle to help the needy.

Erbil's Children: Syrian Refugees in Urban Iraq

Greece: The Refugees' Grandmother in Idomeni
Play video

Greece: The Refugees' Grandmother in Idomeni

From her small house in Idomeni, Greek grandmother Panagiota Vasileiadou, 82, saw first-hand the bare need of refugees desperate for food to feed their children or clean water to shower and wash their clothes. As a daughter of ethnic Greek refugees herself - who left Turkey in a population exchange after the 1919-1922 Greco-Turkish war - she is now doing all she can to help the latest wave of refugees by giving out food and clothes.
Greece: Health risk to refugee children in IdomeniPlay video

Greece: Health risk to refugee children in Idomeni

Some 10,000 refugees and migrants remain camped out at an informal site at Greece's northern border with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The makeshift home is also home to an estimated 4,000 children, the majority of whom are under the age of five. Doctors warn conditions in the camp are becoming dangerous for children.
Syria: Homs war children find home in abandoned hotelPlay video

Syria: Homs war children find home in abandoned hotel

After five years of conflict that destroyed their spacious children's home in Wa'ar, dozens of orphaned and abandoned children had to relocate to a small former hotel in nearby Homs. The abandoned hotel has limited dormitories, no playgrounds or classroom.