Meet Sweden’s female refugee skiers

5:36 min

A group of young women from countries like Syria, Eritrea and Sierra Leone have formed a cross-country skiing team with the aim of taking part in the Nordic World Ski Championships in Falun, central Sweden.

Just weeks ago, the women had never stood on a pair of skis in their lives, but they were determined to make it to a relay at the Nordic World Ski Championships, taking place right now in Falun.

One of the team members, Silva Mohamed, is a Kurdish refugee from Syria. She lives in Borlänge, where the team has met to practice twice a week in the run-up to the championships.

"I decided to join the team to show that, if you put your mind to it, you can do anything," says Silva. "I'm skiing for Syria," she says, "and for the Syrian children". Silva says she feels more Swedish now that she has taken up one of the country's most popular sports.

And that is also the aim of this skiing project – to help young refugee women integrate into Swedish society. The entrepreneur behind the scheme, Patrik Andersson, has become a bit of a local celebrity. He stars in a new, feel-good documentary about the Somalia Bandy Team - another integration project of Andersson’s, which brought a group of Somali refugees to the World Bandy Championships in Siberia - twice.

“I got this idea from my belief that integration through sports is the best way to get in contact with Swedish people. This way, Swedes, Somalis, Syrians and Kurds can get together,” says Andersson.

“I think women are often further away from the Swedish society and that’s why I think this is a good way for them to integrate. They meet Swedish people, they have something to talk about and they realise that they have a lot in common. The only thing that changes is the colour of the skin and they also have a more complicated history than most of us.”

So, why is cross-country skiing a good way for young refugee women to integrate into Swedish society? Coach Joachim Wolf explains:

“If you want to be part of the community here, it’s easy to fit in if you practice skiing. You meet a lot of people and it’s a friendly atmosphere. It’s definitely something that everybody does. What can be more Swedish than doing this sport that a lot of people can relate to? You get a common thing to speak about and a common interest,” says Wolf.

“The communication is very difficult, but somehow we’re all here enjoying ourselves, laughing and practicing and learning to enjoy skiing. So I think if the girls can take something away from this where they get a sport, not really for competing, but to keep fit and enjoy the outdoors, then I think this is a definitely a great sport to integrate through.”

Some of the girls on the team have also gone skiing with their Swedish friends in their spare time. Like Eden Haile, who is 18 years old and from Eritrea.

"I've tried skiing three or four times now. But I keep falling over. Skiing is fun but it hurts everywhere!" says Eden. She has told friends back home about her skiing adventures, but they don't really understand how it works. "We don't have snow in Eritrea," Eden says before taking off on her brand new cross-country skis.