Beyond Snapchat: unaccompanied refugee children’s media experiences in Sweden

Sweden in March: snow, wind and temperatures of 2-3 °C. The perfect time for doing field work. “How do you cope with this weather?” – I asked the president of the Ensomkommandes Förbund organisation, a 23-year old young woman from Afghanistan. „Well, if one has to choose between being safe or being cold, I’m sure that most people will choose this freezing weather”- she replied with a smile. I couldn’t have agreed more.

We met at the community center of her NGO that was opened for unaccompanied refugee youth in Southern Sweden. The center is managed mostly by unaccompanied young refugees, and it offers a range of courses, from Swedish to photography or modern dances. It is also a popular place to meet with friends after school.

I was in Sweden for the second phase of the EU-funded Marie Curie project on how displaced children (aged 14-18) use digital technology and (social) media. If during my first trip to the Netherlands, I got to know the work of guardians/mentors and Eritrean music and cuisine, in Sweden I could pinpoint better the impact national and local policies have on asylum-seeking young refugees. Sweden has been in the spotlight recently as it was criticised by international organisations for not enhancing enough the protection of asylum seekers. Moreover, its Finance minister recently declared that she regrets her government’s decision to let more than 160,000 refugees into Sweden, as integration is not working. While the migration debate is quite heated, one has to acknowledge the type of support given to unaccompanied refugee children. From access to digital technologies, private and public housing and a myriad of services/programmes offered by NGOs and volunteers, probably many other EU countries would have a lot to learn from this Nordic country.

As in the case of the Netherlands, I was overcome by the dedication of the mentors and the volunteers who work tirelessly for these children. I also learned a lot from the young people themselves: about ambition, hope and hard work in trying to build up a new life. We talked about apps and social media, and meanwhile we shared stories about food and home and sometimes, struggles.

The next phase of the research will take place in Italy, the country with the biggest share of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.

I am much indebted to Patrik and his team, Mahboba and Malmö municipality for their support.

Photo credit: the author and Ensomkommandes Förbund.