ROME, Italy, Oct 9 (UNHCR)—A first group of 19 asylum seekers was relocated from Italy to Sweden today under an EU relocation scheme.
The asylum seekers who arrived in Sicily by boat over the last few weeks were registered in Lampedusa and accepted to take part in the relocation scheme that will allow them to be relocated to other EU countries.
Their journey began in the early hours of Tuesday morning aboard a small bus bound to Rome. The mood was festive as they made their way north and crossed the Strait of Messina by ferry.
Many remembered with contrasting emotions the other boat journey they took only days before when, in a bid to find safety in Europe, they crossed the Mediterranean aboard rickety smugglers’ boats.
“The boat from Libya was small and we were many. At some point we lost hope. We thought we would die,” recalled Osman, 28, as he looked out at the sea. “Then an English ship arrived and rescued us. It gave us back life. We cannot forget.”
The departure of the group officially starts the relocation plan from Italy, and will be followed by other departures early next week. The scheme foresees the relocation of 160,000 refugees from Italy and Greece. It is an important step toward stabilizing the refugee crisis in Europe although much more needs to be done.
The relocation plan can only work if, at entry points in Europe like Greece and Italy, robust reception facilities are created to receive, assist, register and screen asylum seekers and migrants. In addition, accessible legal avenues are needed for refugees to reach safety in Europe without putting themselves and their families at risk.
The flight from Rome landed in Lulea, a city in the very north of Sweden, in the late afternoon. For the refugees, it is a different world—one of calm, endless stretches of forest, snow-glistening mountains and sub-zero temperatures large parts of the year. But also the Northern light (Aurora Borealis), the Midnight sun, warm summers and friendly northerners.
After a registration procedure they will travel to an asylum centre where they will live awaiting the outcome of their asylum application. Once accepted they will be free to work and study in Sweden, contributing to Swedish society.
‘We are very happy that Sweden is showing the way, being the first country to accept asylum-seekers through the EU’s relocation programme’ says Pia Prytz Phiri, Regional Representative for UNHCR Northern Europe. ‘This is an important first step in toward stabilizing the refugee crisis in Europe.’
Since the beginning of the year, more than 132,000 refugees and migrants have arrived to Italian shores, mainly in Sicily. Tragically so far this year over 3,000 persons died at sea in the attempt to find safety in the EU. In 2014, sea arrivals in Italy reached 170,100 and 3,500 refugees and migrants died or when missing as a consequence of the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean Sea
It is still hard for this group of asylum seekers to comprehend what life will be in Sweden, but they are happy to make the first steps towards a new life in a safe way.
By Medea Savary in Rome, Italy and Fredrik Sperling, Lulea, Sweden