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MIGRANT

Stranded pickers to be bussed home: official

Bulgaria has agreed to bring home hundreds of its nationals stranded in Sweden by false promises of jobs as seasonal berry-pickers, the city of Stockholm said Wednesday.

Stranded pickers to be bussed home: official
Stranded pickers arriving in Stockholm on Wednesday.

“The Bulgarian government has taken the decision to finance their return by bus,” Stockholm city official Brita Mohlin told AFP, adding that the city would work together with the Bulgarian embassy.

The migrants have been living in makeshift camps in the forests of central Sweden, amid simmering tensions with local residents, after being lured there by suspected human-traffickers with promises of seasonal work.

Since last week, hundreds of them have also camped outside the Bulgarian embassy in the capital Stockholm, seeking help to get home.

Bulgarian ambassador Svetlan Stoev told the TT news agency:

“We are working to get them all home to Bulgaria. But we need help finding buses.”

Mohlin said the about 200 people who were camping outside the embassy would leave by Thursday morning, as soon as enough buses had been located.

On Monday, a 43-year-old man, whose name was not given, was detained in Sweden suspected of human trafficking, after a number of Bulgarians reported to local police he had tricked them into making the trip.

Local police in the central Uppsala region said the man had recruited the Bulgarians and promised them housing, food and decent salaries.

But after he drove them up in a bus, the migrants told police, they were handed tents and basically left to fend for themselves in what has been shaping up to be a disastrous berry season due to poor weather.

Locals in nearby villages and towns have for weeks voiced concern about the squalid conditions of the large camps, without easy access to food or sanitary facilities, and the strain it was putting on local communities.

Many have made their way down toward Stockholm and the embassy, and to accomodate their needs the city made a school building in central Stockholm available on Wednesday night. Resources however remained stretched.

“I am trying to call round to the different local authorities in the municipalities that have many stranded pickers and ask them to keep them up there. Otherwise we risk a situation we can’t manage down here,” said Mohlin to TT.

Mohlin was very pleased with the news from Bulgaria, but added that getting the stranded pickers home will be no easy feat.

“It is hard to find buses and drivers, the embassy is working hard to solve the situation. And then the pickers need to be identified, to ascertain that they really are Bulgarian,” Mohlin told TT.

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IMMIGRATION

Stockholmers gather to welcome refugees

Volunteers headed to Stockholm's central train station on Tuesday to welcome refugees with clothes, food, and coffee. One told The Local that some Swedes don't realize how lucky they are to live in such a safe place.

Stockholmers gather to welcome refugees
Stockholmers prepare to greet refugees at the central train station. Photo: TT
Sahar Zamani, 40, has been at Stockholm's central train station since early on Tuesday morning. 
 
“I heard through Facebook that refugees would be arriving in Stockholm so I didn't waste any time,” she told The Local. 
 
Together with around a dozen other volunteers, Zamani (pictured below) has already welcomed a handful of refugees who took a cross-country train from Malmö in southern Sweden, where 230 asylum seekers have arrived since Monday afternoon. 
 
“They were scared, they thought we were police… but we just told them we were here to help and gave them food and drinks,” Zamani said. 
 

Sahar Zamani said: We cannot close our eyes to this. Photo: TT
 
It is unclear if any of the refugees arriving in Stockholm were among those those who marched along a Danish motorway on Monday, reportedly chanting “Malmö, Malmö, Malmö” as they earlier attempted to travel to Sweden on foot. They had previously run away from police in southern Denmark to avoid having their fingerprints taken, for fear they would be registered as seeking refuge in Denmark and unable to go on to Sweden, where many said they had family.
 
Since the weekend, Danish motorists have been arrested for “smuggling” refugees over the border into Sweden, while one Danish woman has described how she helped some sail across the Öresund strait between Denmark and Sweden.
 
While Sweden has become a top EU destination for refugees by issuing permanent residency to all Syrian asylum seekers, Denmark has sought to reduce the influx by issuing temporary residence permitsdelaying family reunifications and slashing benefits for newly arrived immigrants.
 

Refugees march along a motorway in Denmark on Monday. Photo: TT
 
Since arriving on Swedish soil, the latest batch of refugees travelling from Denmark have had an easier passage to Stockholm after rail operator SJ relaxed its rules on checking identity papers and on luggage restrictions, with one spokesperson telling The Local that the company was “showing its humanitarian side”.
 
Some of the refugees who arrived in the Swedish capital on Tuesday were heading onward to Finland, and volunteers at the station have also helped them find their way on to ferries. 
 
 
Sahar Zamani said that she had no intention of leaving the central station in the coming hours, having heard that more refugees would arrive throughout the day.
 
The group of volunteers – which was mobilised via a Facebook campaign on Tuesday – is armed with clothes, food, coffee, and plenty of bottles of water.
 
A small Swedish boy among them was photographed by the TT news agency holding up a sign saying 'welcome refugees' in English.
 

A child holds a sign welcoming refugees in Stockholm. Photo: TT
 
“There are no words to explain what these people have gone through. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy. I can't just stand by and watch what's happening and say to them: 'No, you can't come here'. It's a human right, plain and simple,” said Zamani, adding that she hoped that many other Swedes felt the same.
 
“I want to treat people how I would want to be treated if I was in the same situation. There shouldn't be any holding back, especially when there are children involved. We cannot close our eyes to this. Think that 99.9 percent of Swedes will never have it as bad as these refugees have had it. I am here to do all I can.”
 

Stockholmers prepare to greet refugees at the central train station. Photo: TT