Building a new life in Sweden after fleeing Syria

16 min

March 15th marks five years since the beginning of the war in Syria and millions have been forced to leave their homes. May Alekthyar, engineer, blogger and radio rookie, ended up in Sweden.

Since 2011, more than 11 million Syrians have been forced to flee from their homes. Most of them are still in Syria or in neighbouring countries, but some 109,000 Syrians have applied for asylum here in Sweden.

Among them is May Alekhtyar, who came to Sweden in 2013. Recently, she and two colleagues produced a programme for Swedish Radio about Syrians who are trying to build a new life in Sweden. The programme is called Integration inifrån, meaning Integration from the inside.

Alekthyar remembers clearly the day she decided to leave Syria. She tells Radio Sweden: "When I think about it, it wasn't about being scared, it was about being disappointed. It was the feeling that you don't have a country really. Because what is a homeland, what is a country if they are going to do this to us?"

Eventually, the feeling of not having a home country at all gave way to the realisation that the connection with where you come from will actually never really go away, says Alekthyar. She says it took a long time for her to get past the shock of coming from a war-torn country to a very quiet and calm Sweden. In the beginning, she followed all the news from Syria, but it became too tough just being here physically while always thinking about and getting anxious about what was happening over there. Now, she is trying to be more present here in Sweden, mentally speaking, or “at least 80 percent" here, she says.

"After three years, I have this policy for controlling my stress. I don't really follow everything that is happening in Syria…I’m trying to control the information I get. I know the headlines, I know what is happening with my family, but I try not to dig deeper," says Alekthyar.

In their radio programme, Alekthyar and her colleagues interviewed several Syrians living in Sweden. They met a family that has had a relatively good start here. They have made new friends through the children's school, they have been to ice-hockey matches and they have gradually found a way to adapt to life in Sweden. But the programme also includes an interview with a Syrian woman who feels very disappointed with life in Sweden, and who has given up on trying to learn Swedish because she feels she can never feel at home here anyway.

Alekthyar thinks most Syrians in Sweden are somewhere in-between these two extremes of fitting in and feeling isolated, but she hopes the example of the family, where both the parents and kids have worked hard to learn Swedish, can serve as an inspiration.

"I think that we Syrians, when we are sitting in our closed circles, speak only about the problems, because you feel you can be open with this other person who is from your culture. So we speak about the problems all the time, we know what kind of problems and difficulties we are having. So I think it was nice for us Syrians, and maybe other people who have come here as well, to see that if you try you can succeed," says Alekthyar.