My year of hope and despair in Sweden

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My year of hope and despair in Sweden

Fleeing Ethiopia to seek asylum in Sweden has meant both renewed hope in life as well as despair, writes journalist Habtamu Bogale Alemu.


How can hope and despair go together? In my life – an unusual life for many – that has been the case.

I arrived in Sweden almost exactly a year ago. I am still grateful and thrilled about that day. It was tantamount to a miracle that I made it here, still alive and with the chance to live again.

I was a journalist in Ethiopia, one of the most dangerous dictatorial regimes in the world. It is well known nowadays that Ethiopia is not a land of democracy. It is not a land for journalists and bloggers, and all in all it is not a land for those who have different views from the government and dare to utter them.

The most dangerous dictator in the world is the one who knows and uses the law. Trust me, that applies to the current dictatorial regime in Ethiopia. I have experienced hell in the most practical sense for simply doing my journalistic duties and expressing my political views. I have been tortured, imprisoned, and other inhuman things I wish not to discuss here. Inevitably, this compelled me to flee my country, my people, my family, and my land.

My journey from Ethiopia to Sweden was a total catastrophe. For that reason I wrote earlier that the fact I am still alive feels like a miracle. I stared death in the face on my dangerous journey by boat across the Mediterranean Sea. I know what it means to feel like you are dying, to exist without hope.

I have experienced desperation, seen the line between life and death that we usually only read about in novels or see in movies. Yet it is true what they say: that which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

Going through these experiences has made me stronger. It has made me humbler and more grateful for every single beautiful thing in life, the things we usually take for granted. The day I arrived in Sweden is a very special one in my life: it was the day I began to hope again. Arriving here and becoming part of this amazing, caring and open society gave me a second chance to live.

So why the despair, you may wonder?

I despair because I don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow in my life. I have applied to the Swedish Migration Board for asylum. To this day, after a solid year, after 365 days of waiting, they have yet to make a decision on my application. I have asked the authority why it is taking so long, but have not received a concrete answer. “There were so many applications in 2015,” is the usual justification.

It is not easy to wait when you do not know how long you have to wait for. Why does Migrationsverket not have a timeframe which it needs to adhere to? I may just be a case number for them, but I wonder if they realize that case is a human being? A human being with emotions like hope and despair.

I was fortunate enough to be welcomed at the Östersundsposten newspaper as an intern. Along with giving me a chance to continue in my profession as a journalist, my colleagues have now become my friends and family. They understand and feel my pain on every level. Any time I have needed them, they have been there.

Sweden and ÖP have provided a platform for me to continue my work. While back home I was denied basic rights like freedom of speech and the right to express my opinion, here at ÖP I manage my own blog – a blog which nowadays is a voice for many of the voiceless like me. I am thankful from the bottom of my heart for that.

The other beautiful thing that has happened to me in the last 12 months was experiencing the Northern Lights and Christmas with Swedish friends and their family. It was a wonderful time. Being given a pair of handmade socks from a friend’s grandmother is something I will never forget, something that will stay in my heart. I am also learning the Swedish language, as well as about Swedish culture and history from my friends here.

That is my year of hope and despair in Sweden.

This is the English version of an opinion piece first published in Swedish by Östersundsposten.

READ ALSO: Check out The Local Voices for more stories by, about and for newcomers in Sweden


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