Fleeing Alone, Some Migrant Kids Find Foster Homes In Sweden
The home of Freia-Mai Franck and Hans Sick in the southern Swedish town of Karlshamn is very lively these days. This couple in their 70s — who have grown kids and grandkids of their own — took in a pair of Afghan teenagers three months ago.
Franck says she was a refugee herself after World War II, when her family fled eastern Germany from the advancing Soviet army.
"That is what comes up when I see children that don't have their parents and had to flee," she says. "I'm remembering what was happening to me when I was a child and how I got hope and the desire to live again."
The couple now hopes to bring joy and stability to the lives of two boys, Navid, 14, and Mohsen, 15, who traveled from Afghanistan to Sweden last year without their respective families.
The boys, neatly dressed and polite, greet visitors with shy smiles. NPR isn't giving their last names to protect their privacy.
Sweden is grappling with a record number of migrants seeking asylum, including 35,000 unaccompanied minors who arrived in the country last year alone. Once in Sweden, each child is assigned a legal guardian. Most live together in special homes. Some, like these boys, have been taken in by Swedish families.
Mohsen's impoverished family had fled to Iran to escape the Taliban in Afghanistan. They used the last of their money to send Mohsen on to Europe. Navid became separated from his family during his family's journey to Europe. He says many kids are traveling alone. But they find each other.
"You don't stay alone," he says. "We traveled together and the older kids looked after us. We helped and protected each other from bad people like smugglers."
Navid says sometimes they went for several days without eating, and often slept outside. For the first month after they arrived in their new home, Mohsen and Navid just wanted to stay in bed and sleep, Franck says.
"And I recognized that they had to bring life again into their mind and into their body," she says. "They just stayed in bed."
But now the boys are in school and beginning to learn Swedish. They communicate using smartphone translators.
One of the first things Sick did with the boys was to help them put auburn highlights in their dark hair. The four of them laugh about the experience. But the well groomed boys are clearly concerned about their appearance.
Some of the couple's neighbors are also thinking about fostering migrant children. But not everyone is so eager to help. Support for Sweden's anti-immigration party is increasing and there's growing opposition to mass immigration.
Upstairs, the boys show off their bathroom and bedroom with its two single beds. On the wall is a map of Sweden and a poster of international soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo.
They say they chose to share a room and use what would have been a second bedroom as a sitting room where they can talk and drink tea.
Mohsen says everything about Sweden is good — "especially that everyone is treated equally," he says.
Thoughts Of Their Absent Families
I ask how they feel when they lie down in their own beds at night. Navid's response makes me regret my question.
"When I go to bed and when I start thinking about my life, I remember my family and I don't know where they are and I feel very bad," he says.
Franck says despite their recent trauma, the boys are normal, sweet teenagers.
"Oh, they laugh and we feel good," she says. "They tell us what they love to eat, and they tell us, no, this is not good and so on. And I say, try a little bit because this is Swedish!" she says laughing.
Sick says it's sometimes a challenge to have two young boys in the house — but he and Franck felt compelled to help.
"I cannot imagine living in a country where you have that little empathy that you just let people go," he says. "I would not live in such a country."
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