Disappointed migrants 'too frightened' to live in Swedish woods

Jonathan Ewing
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Migrants occupied a bus in Sweden in October, refusing to stay in an isolated village made up by wooden chalets located in dense woods, though eventually most of them accepted the facility

Migrants occupied a bus in Sweden in October, refusing to stay in an isolated village made up by wooden chalets located in dense woods, though eventually most of them accepted the facility (AFP Photo/Nisse Schmidt/TT)

Limedsforsen (Sweden) (AFP) - When he fled the war in Syria, Abdullah Waez dreamed of a new life in Sweden. But now that he's arrived, surrounded by a dark and cold forest, he says he's scared and doesn't see a future here.

Waez and 52 other asylum seekers were shocked when migration officials brought them by bus to their new accommodation on Sunday: a cluster of red wooden cabins in a forest in the village of Limedsforsen, some 400 kilometres (250 miles) northwest of Stockholm.

Some of the migrants moved into the cabins right away.

But a handful of others have refused. On Thursday evening they finally agreed to get off the two buses that drove them there, but continued to block one of the vehicles from leaving. Warming themselves in the glow of a bonfire, they were demanding to be taken to a bigger town.

"We don't understand why they've taken us to the forest where it's so dark and so cold. When we first arrived, we were frightened and we don't want to live like this –- in the middle of nowhere," says Waez, in temperatures hovering around seven degrees Celsius (45 Fahrenheit) as darkness fell around 4:00 pm.

The area's pristine nature, tranquil forest and clean air are normally cherished by Swedes who flock to the cabins during the winter ski season.

But Waez and the other refugees and migrants from the Middle East, Afghanistan and Africa were not having it.

"We don't like to stay in the woods, it's not our way," says Waez.

The Swedish Migration Agency says the country is receiving so many migrants and refugees -- at a rate of 10,000 a week -- that its capacities are being strained and it is beginning to erect tents to house some of the arrivals.

- 'I couldn't see my hand' -

"It's not totally in the middle of nowhere. There is a shop, and buses," Migration Agency spokeswoman Maria Lofgren told AFP.

Limedsforsen has around 500 inhabitants.

The first night was the worst, says Waez, 34.

"We told the immigration officer that we didn't want to stay, that we would not leave the bus –- and for some reason they didn't argue with us and neither did the bus driver," he explains.

The driver simply removed the keys and exited the bus but left the door wide open. The immigration officer also left and not long after, several asylum seekers from Eritrea also left to spend the night in the cabins.

"But we stayed and the first hour was okay, but then it began to get dark -– so dark that I couldn't see my hand in front of my face," says Hadeel Waez, Abdullah's 25-year-old sister.

"During the second hour it became very cold and the children began to cry. By the third hour, many of us began to argue."

Most agree that the first night was a gruelling ordeal and very few people slept.

But the asylum seekers stuck to their plan, refusing to disembark from the bus and move into the cabins.

Since then, Migration Agency officials have been to the site several times to try to negotiate with them, but to no avail.

It's this or nothing, they have tried to argue.

"With the number of arrivals continuing to increase, the accommodations we can find are further and further away from the big cities," Lofgren said.

- 'Happy to be here' -

The 19 cabins are spartan and clean, with running water and heat. Most have two bedrooms, a toilet and shower, a kitchen with an oven, a refrigerator and a microwave, and a washing machine and television.

Jamel Alam, a 35-year-old from Eritrea, is one of those who thinks the accommodation is fine.

He moved into a cabin with his wife and children on the first night.

"We are happy to be here and maybe, somehow, we can build up our lives again," Alam says.

Another man who would not give his name but said he was in his 30s and from the Syrian capital Damascus, insists that while he is grateful for what has been provided by Sweden, he does want to eventually move to a city.

"I'll stay here for now, but if there is another place offered, then I'll gladly go. I want to learn Swedish and I want to work. I am an engineer and a teacher, I have something to offer, I would like to stay," he says.