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'The image of a victim is not what I want'

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'The image of a victim is not what I want'
Hind Aleryani at the Arab Women of the Year awards in London. Photo: Private
16:00 CET+01:00
A Yemeni journalist and activist seeking asylum in Sweden has been asked to move to the Czech Republic to have her case heard there, despite having family resident in Sweden.

Journalist Hind Aleryani wants to work and volunteer in Sweden and give back to the community, and chose the Scandinavian country because her mother and sister both have residence here. This means Sweden offers much-needed stability for her 16-year-old daughter, whose health has deteriorated due to anxiety over the threats the family received at home and the uncertainty regarding their living situation.

The family moved after Aleryani and her daughter received threats of violence while living in Turkey.

After claims on Yemen's state TV that Aleryani was funded by international organizations with the aim of ruining Islam's reputation, both she and her daughter were contacted over the phone and on social media by people threatening violence and naming Aleryani's daughter's school.

"I had received threats before, but this shocked me because I never mention my daughter on social media; most people don't even know I have a daughter. But they knew her school. I will do anything to protect her," the journalist says.

She and her daughter were able to move to Sweden quickly, leaving most of their possessions behind, because Aleryani had a valid Schengen visa from visiting the Czech Republic for a work conference in 2017 and this allowed her daughter to get a visa for Sweden.

At first she hoped to work in Sweden, with plans to continue her journalism as well as volunteering with newcomers, but migration laws meant that she could only apply for a work permit from a different country. That would mean either asking her daughter to travel again or leaving her behind, so Aleryani applied for asylum in January this year.

Shortly after submitting the application, Aleryani and her daughter were told by the Migration Agency (Migrationsverket) that their case could not be heard in Sweden and that they had to travel to the Czech Republic instead, because Aleryani's visa for that country was still valid. Under the Dublin Regulation – which determines which country is responsible for processing asylum cases within the Dublin area – asylum seekers should have their case heard in the country they travelled to first. 

Czech authorities agreed in April to take on the family's case, although this is not a guarantee that they will be granted asylum there.

The regulation does allow for exceptions, including due to close family ties in a certain country, but the Migration Agency said it didn't consider this to be applicable in Aleryani's case since she and her daughter were "not dependent" on their family.

The agency also said that the decision to transfer the family to the Czech Republic was in line with "the best interests of the child". 

But in Aleryani's opinion – backed up by multiple doctors who have treated her daughter – another move overseas, to a country she has never visited before, would be a huge setback for the girl.

Medical documents seen by The Local list her daughter's symptoms as including sleep and eating disturbances, as well as severe anxiety. Her doctors have linked the symptoms to the deportation notice as well as the previous threats and trauma, and also note that she has a stable school and family environment in Sweden, which has been a key factor in beginning her recovery. 

In 2017, Aleryani travelled to London for a few days to receive an Arab Women of the Year award, and says that seeing the impact the separation had on her daughter has reinforced her instinct not to leave her daughter or allow her to be moved again.

"We just want to feel safe, nothing else," she says. "My daughter has been through a lot and now is feeling better and doing well at school. She feels safer here because we have our family here."

Aleryani has received support from UN Women Yemen and Reporters Without Borders, who confirm that the threats against her are serious and call for her protection. But in Sweden, the journalist feels she has been treated as "just a number".

"The image of a victim is not what I want," Aleryani tells The Local, and explains that she has made every effort to support herself, including cooperating with authorities as much as possible. She chose not to receive the daily financial allowance asylum seekers are entitled to in Sweden, as she wants to be independent and "to show that all I want is safety for me and my daughter".

"I am a productive and independent person and want to give to Sweden and work here," Aleryani tells The Local. "But we can't do anything, not even go to SFI, because I don't have the right."

In fact, opting out of the financial allowance worked to her disadvantage.

Aleryani found out her case had been handed over to police when she went to Migrationsverket's office and was told she had missed a meeting that day. After missing an earlier meeting due to being at the hospital with her daughter, Aleryani says she was not informed of the date for the second meeting, though agency staff said they sent her a letter a week before and tried to call her on the day.

In an email seen by The Local, Aleryani's case officer said: "Sure, we could have tried to call you a few times more and maybe send another letter for a new appointment, but we just followed standard protocol." They added that because she did not receive the daily allowance, which is usually cancelled as a first step before contacting police, the agency had "no other choice" but to hand her case to police.

The consequence of this is that the time period in which the family can be sent to the Czech Republic is now extended to 18 months, leaving them in limbo even longer. 

The journalist is particularly frustrated by this, because her daughter was finally settling in in Sweden and began attending a local school this year, which doctors say has contributed to improvements in her health.

"They don't understand what we are going through, although I tried to explain. The interviews were just about the Dublin case, it wasn't about what happened to us," she says.

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