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'Cellar family' turned away by council

Paul O'Mahony · 10 Jan 2007, 12:44

Published: 10 Jan 2007 12:44 GMT+01:00

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"It is not certain why they were living there but I suspect they may not have known about the safety nets available," police spokesman Max Forsstöm said at the time.

It has now emerged however that the family did in fact ask for assistance from the local council in the eastern town of Gävle but had their request turned down.

The family claim to have left their home town of Malmö following continued harassment from another family.

They also say that, upon arriving in Gävle in the autumn, they approached social services, the local council and the police for help.

In the meantime they were living in the children's grandmother's studio flat in the town of Sätra.

"The children's grandmother has diabetes. It wasn't possible for everybody to live in that little flat," the father of the family told Expressen.

But rather than help them find suitable housing, social services offered the family a ticket back to Malmö.

A heavily pregnant Saliah Yonnis, who was treated in a pressure-chamber after Monday's ordeal, says that she did not sleep during the three days the family spent in the old storage cellar.

"I was worried about the children. If somebody had just shown an interest and helped up we would never have moved there," she told Expressen.

Social services have now promised to find accommodation for the family. But Saliah Yonnis is taking nothing for granted.

"Not after everything that has happened. But we are hoping of course.

"There is nothing we want more than a place to live so that the children can have a good life," she told Arbetarbladet.

Local social services explained to newspaper Gefle Dagblad that they did not offer the family accommodation because they already receive housing and welfare benefits in Malmö.

"Maybe we didn't know about the whole situation. It's possible that we offered the family tickets back to Malmö," Örjan Ohlström from Gävle social services told Expressen.

The family moved to Sweden from Iraq ten years ago. Several of the children, aged between 5 and 14, were born in Sweden.

The family members have residency permits and have never previously been in contact with the police.

The cellar where the family sought refuge is located in Tolvfors, a small area on the outskirts of the eastern town of Gävle consisting of stables, paddocks, streams, a community centre and an old manor.

The cellar is an old storage building constructed for the conservation of vegetables and other foodstuffs.

Story continues below…

On Sunday evening the family tried to light a fire in the cellar to generate some warmth.

The night was relatively mild and damp but previous nights had seen temperatures drop below zero.

"They had put up some form of covering in the doorway, presumably to keep out the cold," said Max Forsström.

But it also led to them inhaling dangerous smoke fumes.

Tolvfors is located near Gävle Hospital and the father of the family went there to get help. Emergency services and police were quickly called to the scene.

The parents and their six children, aged between 5 and 15, were all treated for smoke-related injuries and later released from hospital.

Paul O'Mahony (paul.omahony@thelocal.com)

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