Claiming they had been misled by the Swedish Migration Board about where they would be taken, the refugees refused to leave the bus on New Year's Eve. They objected to the cold weather in the north, and the location of the center in the countryside far away from any urban area.
Swedish Radio News reported that the migration authorities persuaded the asylum seekers to abandon their protest by showing them a piece of paper saying they should be relocated within three months.
The 30-odd refugees boarded the bus in Malmö, southern Sweden and claimed they were told that they would be taken to Stockholm or its vicinity. Instead, they spent 15 hours on the bus, until it arrived at a former military base that has been turned into a refugee center, near the village of Grytan 20 kilometres outside Östersund in northern Sweden.
Up there there is snow on the ground and less than five hours of daylight at this time of year. Most of the asylum seekers, who mainly come from Syria and Iraq, refused to get off the bus, complaining about the weather and the location far out in the countryside. They said they were misled about where they were being taken, and that they want to be in an urban area, like Malmö or Stockholm.
"They said we would be travelling for 40 minutes, then the trip took 15 hours," one of the asylum seekers told Swedish Radio P4 in Östersund. "They lied to us, we asked many people to give us more information and they didn't tell us anything," said another.
The Migration Board denies that it misled the asylum seekers. “They were told the bus was going to Östersund,” Per-Erik Bjurholt, the head of the Board in northern Sweden, told Swedish Radio News. “That's the information I've received.”
Asylum seekers who come to Sweden do not have the right to choose for themselves where they are placed, but are offered housing wherever it is available. They are also free to decline that accommodation and find their own places to live. But that can be difficult for someone who has just arrived in the country, has no contacts, and does not speak the language.
The Migration Board says the center outside Östersund is the only available housing it has right now for asylum seekers. Every place they have farther south is already filled or over-filled.
“We are extremely over-crowded when it comes to housing,” Bjurholt said. "There is major need, so we have to use every available bed we have in the country.”
Now the board has given the asylum seekers a contract saying they will be moved to another location within three months. One of them, Moaweyh Ramly, told Swedish Radio News in Östersund that he and the other refugees are pleased with the outcome.
"Everything is fine and we got what we wanted. They've apologized and said they made a mistake," Ramly said.