It’s a huge change of circumstances for teenagers who have crossed the Mediterranean squeezed onto small boats with hundreds of other migrants. Some had seen their families killed. One said he hung on under a truck from France for 10 hours before finally reaching Dover. Another was held at gunpoint in Libya. Lacking money for the whole journey, some are forced into prostitution, A journey from Afghanistan to Sweden could take months, sometimes years, he said.
A journey from Afghanistan to Sweden could take months, sometimes years, Kjell-Terje Torvik says. “They have been showing tremendous strength. Even though they have been witnessing very hard things in their home country, the separation from their family is a trauma in itself. Sometimes (officials) encounter children crying out of control in the night … it’s a very hard situation in a foreign country, not knowing the language, without their families.”
Authorities in Britain and Sweden say their resources have been strained hiring extra staff and trying to find new homes for the influx, which has not shown signs of slowing. Over the summer, Kent officials have had to put some children in taxis to other counties to find a suitable foster home because there was simply nowhere to house them. Officials estimate that each child refugee costs the county 30,000 pounds ($45,500) a year.
In Malmo, the Swedish city receiving the bulk of the country’s child refugees, social services have opened five new reception centers and hired some 70 extra staff to cope since August. Annelie Larsson, who heads the city’s social services, said it receives an average of 80 children every day, with most arriving by bus, train or car from neighboring Denmark. Most are unlikely to reunite with their families, she said.
Sweden, with its strong tradition for solidarity and children’s rights, will continue to attract scores of refugees–and will keep on accommodating them. And in Kent, officials are also trying their best to secure more central government funding for their work.
For the children, that’s a ticket to a dramatically improved future. “I want to continue my education here–back home I couldn’t go to school. I miss (my family), but no, I wouldn’t want to go back,” said Simon, 16, who left his parents and seven siblings in Eritrea. Is Europe a dream come true? “I don’t know. I’ll wait to find out what the reality is.”