– My work with the refugees started by coincidence. I met a young Afghan boy who came from Sweden and needed help, and then the journey began, says Sara Brachet, former diaconal services assistant in the Church of Sweden in Paris.
Thousands of young refugees have since 2016 been forced to leave Sweden and other European countries like Germany, Denmark, Finland and Norway, and to migrate to France in order to try and get asylum there. Many of them had their asylum application rejected several times, or even had expulsion orders, and because they had lost hope, and returning to their home countries was not an alternative, they went to France hoping for a new chance.
– All young refugees who come from Sweden to France, come to Paris first, says Sara Brachet. Just like everyone else they wait for their turn to register themselves and meanwhile, if they don’t have any place to stay, they get to sleep outside until they get an accommodation. Right now because of the Covid-19 the government has ditched the tents and has instead arranged for them to stay in sport arenas.
After getting registered refugees go to different cities to stay during the asylum process, depending on where they are placed. They can’t choose where to stay at and they can’t change accommodations either – the majority of them end up outside Paris.
Saras work began in October 2017 when she by coincidence met a young Afghan refugee who had recently left Sweden after becoming paperless. He needed help and she helped him and many others. A month later she began working with the Church of Sweden, and during the following two years she met more than a thousand refugees and helped most of them in their asylum process. She says that before meeting that Afghan boy she had no knowledge about the Swedish migration situation and no idea what was going on in the lives of those young people.
– Before I met that guy I had no contact with the church in Paris. To be honest I was not a believer, she adds.
According to Sara, nobody in the church back then could speak good enough French to help the refugees, so she took the initiative to start a French language cafe, where young refugees did not only hang out to practice French, but also got free lunch, help with the translation of the papers they got from the migration or court and consulting on their asylum cases.
Sara finished her job at the church in July 2019, after almost two and a half years, because the church could not carry on the work. But she didn’t stop helping refugees.
Sara is now working as a volunteer at the association Les Amis des Migrants Suédophones en France, LAMSF, Friends of Swedish-speaking migrants in France. Her work mostly consists of translating documents, holding contact with lawyers and helping the refugees with asylum cases. In the alliance they also have free French courses and a psychiatrist who help the ones in need.
Of course there are other organisations which help too, like Jesuit Refugee Service, JRS, which belongs to the Catholic church and helps the refugees with housing in French families, among other things.
Although the LAMSF doesn’t have anything to do with religion and church, there is still cooperation between them. As for now, they cooperate with the Church of Sweden, JRS, a woman from the French protestant congregation St Jean who also is a member of LAMSF.
Because of the Covid-19 and lock down many places have been closed and their work for the refugees have been cut, but still they try to help the refugee online.
– We will continue our work as long as we are needed, which means as long as refugees from Sweden keep coming. In a few years the flow will probably end, but our work will continue a bit longer, because even the ones who get asylum need help with administration the first year, Sara Brachet says.
The future for the Swedish Afghans in France is difficult to predict.
– Even though France is kinder, more human and better in assessing these refugees, they guys will not have the same life opportunities here that they had in Sweden. Nobody can study here, they can’t go to high school and their opportunities to adult education is low. That is why they will often get jobs in restaurants and constructions. A lot of these young people would want to study more, but it can’t happen because the law says they can’t if they come here and are over 18. The good thing is that many of them like it here, when they begin to understand the language.
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Faiaz Dowlatzai is a young author living in Sweden. He is the chairman of The Alliance of Unaccompanied minors in Sweden and works as teacher and student assistant at Vinsta Public School.
To Faiaz fleeing his home country has meant fighting for his life and his future, defeating darkness and death, reaching the light. He says some will succeed, many will not. Faiaz is now writing on the second book in a triology about his and his siblings flight. The first book was published in 2019.