Syrian journalist Ali al-Abdallah, 33, shares what he’s learned about integration through his efforts to use news and current events to get Swedes and newcomers talking.
Ali, who was trained as a journalist in Damascus and worked previously in Syria, has been in Sweden since September 2013. He now lives in Landskrona, a town with roughly 40,000 residents in southern Sweden, where he’s launched Nyhetscafe (News Café).
Every week, Ali invites an audience of Swedes and newcomers in a local public library to a new discussion about news and current events with a guest speaker such as a local politician or community leader.
In addition to moderating the often lively, in-person debates, Ali also creates videos that he posts on a special Nyhetscafe YouTube channel. The clips range from full-length recordings of the events to short interviews with participants and guest speakers, both of which help ensure the viewpoints and voices from the events remain accessible long after the actual event.
What is Nyhetscafe?
I consider the Nyhetscafe citizens’ journalism. It’s a place for newcomers to get information and learn more about their new community. It’s a forum where newcomers can discuss their concerns, questions, and try to express their own views. The initiative has evolved to become an opportunity for local politicians to come and answer questions that concern people.
Where did the idea come from?
The idea emerged soon after I arrived in 2013 and started reading the Swedish newspapers to learn the language. I found the Swedish media lacking in offering newcomers’ perspective and found it interesting to engage with newcomers and share their views, rather than simply being talked about.
Refugees as a minority are very concerned about what’s happening in Sweden. And so the initiative came from that need; the need to provide more balanced information to and about newcomers.
What are you trying to achieve?
The aim is to teach the language, and let newcomers get a glimpse of what appears in the Swedish media, and specifically things that relate to them. I think unbalanced reporting has resulted in a negative image about newcomers in Sweden. I am trying to change that.
What could Swedish media do better?
Swedish media also focus too much on the tragic side of events. There are very few stories about success and inspirational stories. The amount of negative news is much greater than positive news.
Have you had trouble finding guest speakers?
I’ve invited representatives from the major political parties in Sweden. Every party has accepted my invitations – except the Sweden Democrats (SD). I’ve invited them many times but they simply refused. I told them I am a newcomer and want to talk to them, to hear their views and opinions. But they weren`t really interested in having a discussion with me.
I don’t understand why they don’t come and participate in an open discussion with a refugee journalist. So, if any Sweden Democrat is reading this on The Local Voices, I once again invite any representative of SD to come and participate in our Nyhetscafe discussions in Landskrona.
Do you have integration tips for other newcomers?
The first thing to do is learn the Swedish language, and the second is build contacts and relationships with Swedes. Language and contacts open the doors for you, and make it easier to get jobs.
The third thing is to dare. The death of any language is lacking the boldness to speak. Speak Swedish even if you make mistakes. There’s nothing wrong with that, we learn from our mistakes. Try and speak to Swedes; they may seem shy, but at the same time they are open.