SHARE
COPY LINK

IMMIGRATION

Swedish baby groups help immigrant parents

Sweden has just been rated the top place in the world for expats to raise families, as The Local reported last week. But there is a flip side and immigrant parents often report feeling isolated from their native neighbours, so some Swedes are helping to break the ice.

Swedish baby groups help immigrant parents
Parenthood in a foreign country can feel lonely. Photo: Shutterstock

Children's laughter and nursery rhymes resonate through the library as young mums play with their babies: in a suburb outside Stockholm, a group of immigrants is trying to learn Swedish and integrate into society.

The 'Swedish with Baby' programme is aimed at both immigrants and Swedes on parental leave, offering them a chance to get together once a week to learn from each other and break the isolation that Sweden's generous parental leave – of up to 16 months – can sometimes bring.

“I've come almost every week since September. I'm at home alone with my daughter Maggie, who is 14 months,” says Bobbie, a 28-year-old mother who came to Sweden from China a year ago with her engineer husband.

“It's perfect for the babies, and for me too. We sing a lot, and there's nothing better than nursery rhymes to learn the language.”

Immigration to Sweden has skyrocketed in recent years, due mainly to the country's open-door refugee policy welcoming those fleeing conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Somalia, to name just a few.

Once a homogeneous country, Sweden only began welcoming immigrants some 50 years ago. Now, around 20 percent of the population of 10 million have roots outside the country.

The Scandinavian nation has numerous state-run programmes in place to help immigrants settle in, such as free language classes, employment agency assistance, and housing and living subsidies. And last week, families told The Local why Sweden is the best place in the world to raise children.

READ MORE: Why is Sweden top in the world for expat families?

Yet many doors in society remain closed to immigrants, including those of their neighbours – many say they never get to know any Swedes even after living here for years.

After the birth of a child, foreign parents can often find themselves even more isolated, with no one to talk to.

While the anti-immigration far-right gains ground – the Sweden Democrats became the third biggest party in September's general election – some Swedes are starting up private initiatives to help break the ice with immigrants.

'Swedish with Baby' was started in 2012 by two mothers on parental leave who wanted to help break young parents' isolation.

“People get to meet each other as parents. Everyone's at the same level, we talk about kids in a language adapted to kids. It helps break down barriers,” the head of the programme, says Anna Libietis.

She organizes 13 meetings a week, held in Swedish and free of charge, in suburbs and towns outside Stockholm.

“That's where the people who are most distanced from Swedish society live. In the city centre, the immigrants are usually quite integrated,” she adds.

Akiko, a 38-year-old pharmacologist from Japan, has lived in Sweden for five years and does not work. She comes to the meetings almost every week with her one-year-old Toshi.

“It's better than [language] classes because of the sharing,” she says.

Meanwhile, the Swedish mums in attendance say they come to meet new people but also because they want to do their bit for integration.

“I want to be part of a more open society. We need that, especially with what is going on in Sweden and the world with the rise of the far-right, which I find frightening and sad,” explains 30-year-old Swede Sofia.

Lars Svedberg, a sociology professor at the Ersta Sköndal University in Stockholm, says Swedes have a long tradition of wanting to help those in need.

“Swedes have comfortable lives, they want to give back. That's why they volunteer,” he says..

Standing back from the group, Leo's mum, a native of Uganda, watches the chit-chat with a look of amusement. It's her first meeting, but in elementary Swedish she says she'll come back – she wants to learn Swedish to keep up with her son.

Paywall free

UKRAINE

EXPLAINED: How can Ukrainians seek asylum in Sweden?

Ukrainians displaced by the Russian invasion are leaving their country and looking for shelter in other countries in Europe. But what are the rules for Ukrainians arriving in Sweden?

EXPLAINED: How can Ukrainians seek asylum in Sweden?

This article will remain completely free for everyone as a service to Sweden’s international community. But our coverage is only possible with our paying members’ support, so if you haven’t yet, please consider joining us to support our independent journalism. Thank you.

There are a number of different options available to Ukrainians arriving in Sweden. These include standard entry under Schengen rules, entry under the EU’s Temporary Protection Directive, and seeking asylum in Sweden.

Entry under Schengen rules

Sweden is in the Schengen area, which means that Ukrainian citizens are able to stay here for 90 days without a permit or an entry visa, so long as they have a valid biometric passport, adequate funds to live on, and adequate funds for their home journey. This rule has been in place since 2017 and has not changed following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

If you are entering Sweden via this route, you do not need to contact the Swedish Migration Agency (Migrationsverket) once you arrive.

Ukrainians entering Sweden via this route will not be seeking asylum status or refugee status in Sweden.

In order to qualify for this rule, you must fulfil the following requirements:

  • a passport that is valid for at least three months after the day you plan to leave Sweden
  • a return ticket for a date within the next 90 days
  • a written invitation from the person that you will be staying with, or a booking confirmation if you are staying at a hotel
  • enough money for living costs and the trip home, or a document from someone else stating that they will cover these costs

According to the Migration Agency, those entering Sweden via this route must have at least 450 kronor per person for each day you plan to stay in Sweden. This amount can be lower for children, or if you have paid for accommodation in advance or are staying with someone else.

Sufficient funds can be documented via a bank account statement or a document from the person you will be staying with, stating that they will cover your costs during your visit.

If you are a Ukrainian citizen without a biometric passport, you can enter Sweden and stay for 90 days, but will need a Schengen visa.

If you already know you want to stay in Sweden for longer than 90 days, you should apply for a visitor’s permit.

If you choose to apply under these rules, you will not be granted the same benefits that you would be granted under the EU’s Temporary Protection Directive, such as the right to medical care, the right to work, and the right to housing.

The EU’s Temporary Protection Directive

A special meeting of European interior ministers on March 3rd agreed to apply a little-used measure known as the Temporary Protection Directive to any Ukrainians who want to come to an EU country.

The activation of the Temporary Protection Directive means that Ukrainian citizens can stay in Sweden for a year without having to apply for a visa or make a claim for asylum.

During that time you will be permitted to work and children can access education.

The status applies immediately and covers both Ukrainians who have already arrived and those who come in the days or weeks to come.

If you choose to apply under these rules, you will qualify for benefits such as help with finding a place to live, the right to work and basic healthcare, the right to education for any children you are applying with, and limited financial support.

The following people can apply under this directive:

  • Ukrainian citizens who were resident in Ukraine prior to February 24th 2022
  • people holding residence permits as refugees in Ukraine, or people with subsidiary protection status in Ukraine
  • family members of the above

You must also have left Ukraine after February 24th, must not have committed criminal acts such as war crimes, and must not otherwise pose a threat to Sweden’s security.

Applicants must also be able to present Ukrainian identity documents – this does not have to be a biometric national passport, although these are accepted. You apply for this status at a National Service Centre. There are ten of these across Sweden. See here for a list (choose “Service Centre” in the menu).

Apply for asylum

If you want to, you can apply for asylum upon arrival in Sweden. You cannot do this before you enter the country. You should tell border police at your point of entry that you wish to apply for asylum, or contact the Migration Agency directly if you are already in the country. You can apply for asylum at a Migration Agency application unit in Stockholm, Malmö or Gothenburg.

In order to apply for asylum, you must:

  • provide identity documents such as a passport to prove your identity
  • be photographed and have your fingerprints taken by the Migration Agency
  • meet with an investigator for an interview into who you are, why you want to apply for asylum, and information on the rights you have while you wait for your application to be considered

If you seek asylum in Sweden, you have a right to accommodation, financial support, health care and education for your children, and are allowed to remain in Sweden while your application for asylum is being considered.

SHOW COMMENTS