human development, social justice and sustainable social systems
Helping migrants in Sweden
Hässleholm parish charity work
Since the migrant crisis of 2015, Caritas social activities have been conducted in the parish of Saint Andrew, a parish in the (Swedish) town of Hässleholm, by a dedicated group of volunteers.
Activities began when the bishop of Sweden, Anders Arborelius OCD, called on parishes to assist Caritas Sweden in meeting the needs of the migrants who came to Sweden.
The refugee accommodation, allocated by the local municipality, that was visited, was placed in a forest, isolated from the local town and without access to public transport. This isolation became problematic for the residents. It was in this accommodation center that the local group of volunteers were able to conduct Swedish language training, introductions to Swedish culture as well as homework support.
As many arrived, from warmer climates, during the late autumn and early winter, flip-flops or sandals and light clothing that they came in, became rather inappropriate, particularly when it snowed. The new arrivals had no financial means to purchase the relevant and necessary clothing. The volunteer group of the parish organised for the collection of appropriate clothing in the parish and Caritas Sweden donated funds for the purchase of winter boots. The lack of money was a particular challenge for the parents of new born babies and young children. Particular attention was paid to them, when doing fund raising and cloth collections to meet their needs.
The Swedish migration policy changed very quickly after 2015 and became more restrictive in accepting migrants and in the processing of applications. This created and increased the feelings of apprehension and hopelessness in the migration center.
The center run by the parish group did eventually close down and some of those who were housed there were sent out to different towns in the country, while others were accommodated in Hässleholm and the surrounding area. This meant that activities of the volunteer group had to adapt to the new situation. Those who were in the legal process of seeking asylum approval were not allowed to find employment, and the expectations from the parish group grew. A way to meet the demands of the new situation was to join the activities provided by other denominations. The Catholic church, Pentecostal and the Swedish Lutheran church joined forces which resulted in the ecumenical project called “Hand in Hand – The Church’s Integration Café”. Helping people to integrate into Swedish society and to provide legal assistance in getting cases resolved became the focus of the program.
Most participants who have been granted a legal status since then, have been able to manage reasonably well, through work, study grants, or scholarships given when taking introductory language courses.
The poverty we see now is of a different kind. It is not so much in the financial, material sense, but more of the mental kind – uncertainty of the “new”, loneliness, rootlessness and restiveness.
Certainly, we still provide some material help. This autumn we have been able to offer good quality clothes, but at present, the primary task is to help with the important task of getting people and families established in the Swedish society and the school system.
Poverty can be perceived differently. During these past years, the conditions of the migrants have changed from relative material poverty to poverty of belonging, and having a sense of inclusion.