Abdullah, 30, moved from Syria to Uddevalla in western Sweden in 2015, and now works in a tech company.
“I met Swedes very quickly – they didn’t let me feel like a stranger, or treat me differently because I wear the veil, for example,” says Sana, adding that perhaps she has been fortunate to live in an accepting area. “Here, people are very respectful, and they will offer to help you if you need it.”
“Of course there might be those who won’t accept me as a veiled woman – but now there are many veiled women in Sweden and people seem to be used to it,” she adds. “After socializing with us and finding out that we are educated and very normal creatures, they recognize and accept us.”
“Some newcomers might say that Swedes don’t actually want to engage with us. I don’t think that’s true. Even if there are one, ten or one million xenophobes – there are still around nine million people in Sweden, so there has to be someone to get along with!
Abdullah thinks that perhaps some people are reluctant to interact with women who wear the hijab – or may even be suspicious – because they don't really know what it is. “But sane and open-minded people will think otherwise,” she says.
In the workplace, she was pleased to find that no-one treated her any differently because of her choice to wear a hijab. “I don't feel that people feel estranged from me because of it. I’d heard a lot about racism against newcomers, but personally I haven’t witnessed or experienced any so far.”
She thinks that “misconceptions and cultural differences” are the biggest hurdles facing newcomers hoping to integrate – and says learning the language is a key step. Abdullah began studying Swedish at an adult education college two weeks after arriving, and she says: “It actually isn’t hard but it sounds weird!”
Once she had got to grips with the language, the next step was finding a job. Having worked as a software engineer in Syria for several years, she was well-qualified, but admits she didn't know where or to start with the search.
“I knew that my asylum decision could take a lot of time and so I decided to search for jobs on my own, rather than just waiting for things to happen.”
At a recruitment event, Abdullah learned about Sync Accelerator, a scheme matching newcomers with IT specialisms with tech companies, and recommends that other newcomers make use of similar programmes.
After interviews in Gothenburg and Stockholm, she was offered a job at tech company BigSpin – and in February this year, she finally got legal permission from the migration agency to begin the internship, which will focus on project management for software development.
“Many people here complain that they can’t find jobs and there are no opportunities for them. I think those who really want to work and keep searching, will find jobs – you can start looking even before getting your asylum decision. Maybe many don't know that they are allowed to work before the decision is made.”