Growing number of people in Sweden care for relatives abroad

4:27 min

According to a study by the National Board of Health and Welfare, 1.3 million people living in Sweden regularly provide care for a relative.

This could be someone who provides care for a partner who is chronically ill, a parent with dementia or a parent providing care for a disabled child.

Wilo from Somalia has lived in Sweden for 25 years, but was forced to move home in order to take care of her mother.

"I couldn't stop worrying about what could happen to my mother when I wasn't there. What if she got sick, if she fell? What if I got a phone call from someone saying "your mother has hurt herself" and I was living in Sweden. I couldn't bear that feeling. Therefore, I had to choose. Now I'm with her and in case something happens I can take care of her," she says to Swedish Radio's Somali language service.

However, nobody knows how many of those who are being cared for, live abroad, so there aren't any statistics.

Ann-Britt Sand is a researcher in the department of social work at the university in Stockholm. According to a study carried out by her research team, many of those who are providing care are constantly worried, even when they are at work.

"It makes it harder to concentrate at work, to handle tasks and to relax. That can lead to people calling in sick," she says.

According to Sand, people who provide care for relatives do not receive enough attention for their efforts. During her 20 years as a researcher, the awareness of the issue has risen, but there's still a long way go to, she says.

In Sweden, there are a number of laws regulating the right to provide care for relatives. For example, the Social Welfare Board provides support for those who care for a relative who is elderly or disabled. Employees who care for a relative and who are entitled to compensation from the National Insurance Office are also entitled to paid leave.

However, this legislation only applies to those who live and work in Sweden.

The organization Carers Sweden (Anhörigas Riksförbund) work for better conditions for relatives. They also offer a hotline for relatives wanting to ask questions.

Ann-Marie Högberg is the chairperson of Carers Sweden. She has not heard much from the growing number of people in Sweden caring for relatives abroad. But she thinks this group will be more visible in the future.

"Many people from other countries have lived in Sweden for a long time, and are now getting older. This means that their relatives in their home countries are getting even older," she says to Swedish Radio's Finnish language service, Sisuradio.

One of the key issues for Carers Sweden is more relative-friendly workplaces.

Are you taking care of an elderly or disabled relative in another country? We would like to hear your story.

Contact Radio Sweden through social media. Use the hashtag #familjutomlands.