“It is Obvious That We Should Work Together”

Lisa Hofverberg and Rose-Marie Olihn. © Magnus Aronson

Many young people who had to leave their homelands and come to Sweden as unaccompanied minors slip through the cracks of the Swedish welfare system.
– If you have no home address, you have no home municipality, and no one is responsible for you, says Rose-Marie Olihn, Youth Manager in Upplands Väsby municipality outside Stockholm, and continues:

– When a conversation has to end because the youngster in front of me has to leave, to find a place to sleep for the night, it feels like a big failure.

Lisa Hofverberg, deacon in Hammarby parish in Upplands Väsby, and her congregation do everything they can to support newcomers of all ages. They help find housing, run a language cafe,  arrange parties, make sure some of the church’s summer jobs go to newcomers and know everyone by name.

Other parts of society are equally engaged. The sports club tries to get the young newcomers to join the football team. The municipality has field workers present downtown day and night, supporting the kids. The library is open to all, providing warmth and community information. 

Last spring, after three years of hard work, many were tired. The needs felt overwhelming. On social media rumors flourished. On several occasions serious conflicts arose between different youth groups. Väsby residents felt insecure.

– Around that time, I got to hear a lecture by Mehrdad Darvishpour, associate professor of social work at Mälardalen University. His research shows that when society works together with support such as schooling, nursing and care, stable adults and meaningful leisure time, it increases the wellbeing of the young person and supports integration, Lisa says.

– When you and I got together it became so clear: it is obvious that we should work together, says Rose-Marie looking at Lisa.

One year later, the situation for unaccompanied minors in Upplands Väsby is changed. Rose-Marie and Lisa launched the project “We together” with the support of the Church Board and the municipality, and with funding from the County Administrative Board.

The team includes people from the school, the Municipality Youth Unit, the library, the Cultural Center, the Sports Association and the church. They meet once a week, for planning and follow ups.

– We discovered that we have so much good going on in Väsby. Being linked help us support the target group more effectively. 

Since its launch in June last year, almost 30 young people have been helped to search and find housing, fifteen have been enrolled in study programs, five have been offered internships and some have been given extra jobs.

– They often impress me. Although they have so many difficulties, they struggle with school, live with different friends, work extra and think of others. Like the other day, some volunteered for the elderly who needed help moving, says Lisa.

Rose-Marie agrees:

– They are so incredibly strong. They want to do the right thing for themselves and want to do good for others. But the receiving community need a long-term perspective, strategies, planning and methods to make a difference. And that is what we do here: we streamline our efforts to support the individual and as a result the whole society becomes better and safer.