Sweden rings in Iranian new year

At 1.30am on Wednesday, around 140,000 people in Sweden will begin celebrating Norouz, the Iranian new year.

The initial celebrations set the tone for two weeks of festivities, characterized by the exchange of gifts, an abundance of food and visits to family and friends. Norouz traditionally marks the beginning of spring.

For the third year in a row, the ancient Zoroastrian holiday will be celebrated at Globen Arena in Stockholm. Around 8,000 people are expected to gather in the venue to dance and listen to music.

One of the artists due to play at Globen is Arash, who came to Sweden as a ten-year-old in the 1980s. Having made his breakthrough both in Sweden and internationally, Norouz is a very hectic time for the singer.

“I was in London a few days ago and I’m also going to be playing in Dubai and Copenhagen. It’s great to be able to celebrate the new year with my compatriots around the world,” Arash told news agency TT.

Norouz is the most prominent public holiday in Iran, Syria and in Kurdish regions.

“It is something that is very big for us. It is a bit reminiscent of Christmas. We also have a Christmas buffet, even if it looks different, and we put on our best clothes and exchange presents.

“The main difference between celebrating here and in Iran is that then we celebrated with all our relatives. Here it tends to be a bit more lonely,” said Arash.

Iranian new year celebrations have become so widespread in Sweden that shop-owners have noticed an increase in their takings. The Swedish Trade Federation (Svensk Handel) estimates that turnover will increase by 120 to 150 million kronor ($17-21 million) as a direct result of Norouz.

“It’s really all types of products. People buy a lot of groceries of course. But it is also a holiday for which people dress nicely, so a lot of dress clothes and shoes are bought. Even children are dressed in their finest clothes.

“People also decorate their homes, so there could be a few new living room sofas too,” said Meta Troell from the Swedish Trade Federation.


Foreign students risk losing Swedish university offers after embassies close for interviews

An Iranian student planning on starting university in Sweden this autumn has told The Local he and many others risk being unable to take up their places after the Swedish embassy cancelled their visa interview appointments.

Foreign students risk losing Swedish university offers after embassies close for interviews
Amin Ansari, a project manager and and part-time lecturer, fears he will not be able to start his course later this month. Photo: Private
Amin Ansari, a project manager and and part-time lecturer from Iran, is due to start an MSc in Innovation and Industrial Management at Gothenburg University later this month, but before he can come to Sweden, he first needs to have an in-person physical interview at the Swedish embassy in Tehran. 
But after applying for an interview on July 23rd, he was informed on July 26th that the embassy had cancelled all scheduled visa interviews, and was not currently taking new appointments. The embassy also announced the cancellation of all appointments in a statement on its web page
“Such a decision will prevent us from travelling to Sweden on time, we may lose our offer of admission, which will profoundly affect our academic future,” Amin Ansari, a project manager and and part-time lecturer told The Local. 
“Also, it is worthwhile to mention that we have spent a considerable amount of time and money up to this point, which will be lost thoroughly by this decision.” 
Ansari has formed a Whatsapp group with roughly 70 Iranians who had been hoping to study in Sweden.
The students complain that even though it is less than two weeks before their classes are scheduled to start, and only a matter of days before they reach their tuition fee reimbursement deadline, they have not yet managed to obtain any indication of when or if their interviews would be rescheduled.

Ansari said that he felt Iranian students were being unfairly singled out as “Swedish embassies in many other countries, regardless of the intense Covid-19 pandemic, are fully active”. 
He said he and other students had repeatedly contacted Sweden's Migration Agency, the Swedish Foreign Ministry, the Swedish embassy in Tehran, and its ambassador, without getting any indication of when or if interviews might be possible.  
“We have been told that the embassy ruled this policy as an internal resolution,” he said. “But unfortunately all our efforts so far have not yielded any results.”

A screenshot of an email, seen by The Local, sent to Amin by the Swedish Embassy in Tehran.

When The Local contacted the Swedish foreign ministry, a press officer suggested instead contacting the Swedish Migration Agency, suggesting they were responsible for student visas. 
But in an email to Ansari, the Swedish Migration Agency, said that embassy interviews were in fact the responsibility of the foreign ministry and could not be influenced by the Migration Agency. 
“The coronavirus pandemic has compelled embassies in certain countries to take measures to protect their visitors and staff, such as delaying appointments, and this is not something which the Swedish Migration Agency is able to influence,” the agency told Ansari in an email. 
The KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm told The Local that it had “a number of overseas students prevented from getting to Sweden”. 
“In most cases, this means that the foreign authorities need to open up to implement the biometric part of the entry permit,” it said.
“For this reason, KTH has extended the possibility for non-Europeans to begin their studies until September 7th. However, they must come physically to Stockholm and KTH. No one is allowed to start their studies at a distance.” 

Iran is by far country in the Middle East worst-hit by coronavirus, with leaked figures sent to the BBC's Persian service by an anonymous source indicating that almost 42,000 people died with Covid-19 symptoms up to July 20th – triple the official figure of 14,405 reported by the health ministry.
Since the start of June, the country has been hit by a severe second wave of the pandemic, with as many people dying in mid-July as during the country's first peak in March.