My name is Amanj Mohammad, from Iraq. I came to Sweden around 19 years ago for political reasons, as a political asylum-seeker. I didn’t have a sense of alienation when I arrived the way so many people from the Middle East feel when they come to a European country. First because I was a fluent English speaker, and most Swedish people speak English. So I didn’t have any problems communicating or mingling with other people. Also, my intellectual and political background prepared me to accept Sweden’s various cultures, habits, and customs. Personally, I had no problems at all with the culture of personal freedoms and gay rights and other things like that; I was accepting of this way of thinking and the ideas here.
On the other hand, I wanted to hold on to both my cultural and religious identity, which left me somewhat on the outside of this new society. As an Iraqi it felt natural that all my attention and intellectual and political activity should be devoted to my own country. Also there was that the fact that I lived in a refugee camp, which meant that one day I would return to my country, and that my presence here was temporary. Thinking this way made it hard for me to accept life here. I felt as though I was living here just day-to-day, existing physically in Sweden while my thoughts and imagination were all elsewhere, in my own country.
With time, this feeling changed. Partly because I was forced to take an interest in earning a living, and partly because some of my intellectual and political convictions changed over time. This led me to trying to integrate here better, to become a part of this country. And, in order to develop and evolve myself on an intellectual and political level, I chose to study social sciences in Sweden. I got to a Master’s degree, which opened up job opportunities for me. At some point I became interested in newcomers to the country—how were they integrating into this society? This interest grew and became more sharply focused when it actually became my work on a daily basis: I worked with newcomers, teaching them about Swedish laws, as well as the country’s culture, politics, institutions, customs and traditions, and history. I began feeling like I was, in a way, a bridge between these newcomers and this society. With time, this feeling developed and I came to see it as a political issue and a form of political work. Currently I am one of the people implicated in these questions, working as a volunteer. I am in constant contact with Swedish unions, since part of my daily work, and what interests me most, are the work opportunities and labor rights of newcomers to this country.
From the outside, Sweden is a country that enjoys a good reputation. On paper, its laws constitute a model for the entire world, especially in terms of workers’ rights and the gains they’ve managed to secure, such as working hours and wages and rights, protections against harassment and persecution and discrimination. These are excellent laws on paper, but the reality is something else. The majority of newcomers suffer severely, sometimes at the hands of people who come from the same cultural background as them, which is also an interesting thing to look at. There are also people of course who are undocumented, who work under conditions of semi-slavery. There are tens of thousands of them in this country, between 40 and 50 thousand in fact. We don’t have accurate statistics but this is the best estimation of the number of undocumented people, who are exploited in the most heinous ways. It really is a form of slavery imposed on them and this is currently my area of interest. I consider my involvement in this work my true integration into this society. There are so many ways to define integration but the most accurate one is that you become part of the situation surrounding you, that is, engaged in the current struggles of the country, working toward securing a better life and living, toward greater well-being and freedom, and this can be part of the framework that helps an individual feel integrated. I consider myself truly integrated in this country. And though I might not have a specific story, I’ve found a real reason to integrate. It’s been a 19-year journey, bringing me to a place where I truly see myself as a member of Swedish society.
This summarised transcript of Haneen's story was prepared by Omar Alshikh, edited by Monzer Hayek and translated by Leena Mounzer