Annika, Hadi & Mahdi’s legal guardian, regularly checks in with the boys at their home. She is responsible for their health and well-being as well as aiding them through the immigration process. Every unaccompanied child who arrives in Sweden is guaranteed a legal guardian, locally known as a ‘good man.’
Hadi & Mahdi arrived in Sweden at the age of 11 in October 2015, the peak of the refugee crisis. Originally from Afghanistan, they journeyed from Iran where they were living with their mother and four older sisters. They are two of over 35,000 unaccompanied refugees who arrived in Sweden in 2015 alone. When this photograph was taken in September 2016, they were still awaiting their first meeting with immigration. Since then, they have been granted permanent residency in Sweden and are now waiting to know if their mother will join them.
At the peak of the refugee crisis, Sweden received an unprecedented number of asylum-seekers. In 2015 alone, roughly 165,000 people arrived in Sweden. Many, like Hadi and Mahdi, came with the hope that their families would follow once they gained residency.
Annika checks in with Hadi during his futbol practice about attending a tournament the following weekend. She is the adult they turn to regarding their responsibilities and their privileges.
The immigration process is long and complicated. One of the challenges that many youngsters face is not being called for their first meeting with the Swedish Migration Agency until after their 18th birthday which can be up to three years after they first arrived in Sweden. This means that they are categorized as an adult and not as the child they were when they arrived, thus increasing the likelihood of deportation.
The Swedish Migration Agency cited the boys needed subsidiary protection when they were given permanent residency in Sweden. But, new laws which tighten family reunification now required Hadi and Mahdi to have refugee status for their mother and sisters to even have the possibility to follow. So, when their subsidiary protection status came, Noori immediately appealed and just this summer, the courts declared the twins refugees.
With the changing tide in government and the rise of anti-immigrant sentiments, municipalities are facing big budget cuts for immigration services. Youngsters are regularly having to relocate to new houses that are staffed with less personnel, but home to more children.
"[Life is] better if I go to my futbol and my school, I just miss my family."
Hadi sits in a meeting with Annika, personnel from the group home, and teachers from his school to talk about his progress in the classroom and address any social issues he is facing. Part of the education promise in Sweden is that every student is guaranteed one class in their native language. For Hadi and Mahdi, this is Dari.
Annika includes the boys in all of her family gatherings including vacations with her children and grandchildren. Here the boys sit outside of Annika’s home with their younger ‘cousins.’
One of the big challenges for newcomers in Sweden is to integrate into Swedish society, especially when coming from vastly different cultural backgrounds. When asked what is the most difficult part of socializing with their Swedish peers, the boys responded, “I don’t feel secure telling them [about our journey to Sweden] and I at the same time think that they wouldn’t understand. At their age, I don’t think they could understand.”
One challenge that arises with the legal guardian system in Sweden is jealously amongst the children. Because individuals who take on this role receive a stipend from the government, there are many people who take advantage of the system. They agree to take responsibility for too many children without putting any investment in their future. Annika is known as an exceptional guardian, especially to Hadi and Mahdi and the boys who live in their home. Many of their peers vocalize that they wish they had a 'good man' like Annika.
Hadi and Mahdi pose for a picture with Annika’s grandchildren while out for lunch at an Iranian restaurant in Lund. The young girls admire their new older ‘cousins’ and love spending time with them.
Mahdi spends time outside one of the first homes he lived in in Sweden. Because of the unprecedented number of refugees who arrived in 2015, the Swedish government had to rent out private houses to accommodate everyone who needed shelter. These facilities often have to remain in secret due to anti-immigrant violence; there have been cases of homes being burned down.
The boys often disagree about the timeline of their journey to Sweden. They were so young when they left and it was all so impulsive that many of the details have been lost. They know they crossed into Turkey where police were firing shots into the air. Then they traveled to Greece on a small boat, overloaded with 45 people with water coming flooding the bottom. Via trains and by foot, they crossed into Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria and eventually made it to Austria, then Germany and finally to Sweden. They arrived with a plastic bag of belongings and a ring, gifted by their mother before they left Iran.
The boys have now been in Sweden for nearly two years. Their Swedish is improving as well as is their comfort with the culture. But, as they get older, issues with authority and making responsible decisions are becoming present, likely an attribute of becoming a teenager as much as being an immigrant.
Mahdi settles into his new room in a new home for unaccompanied children. He only stayed here for a couple moves before having to move again.
“I do not think of the future. I think of the past and the present,” says Hadi when asked if he feels uncertain about what is next for him and brother. “If my family comes, it will be better. If they do not come, what shall I do in Sweden?”