Unwelcomed: Refugee recounts struggle to reunite with family

LANDSKRONA, Sweden (CNS) — After making the arduous trek from his native Eritrea to the coastal town of Sundsvall, Sweden, in 2014, Solomon Tesfay dreamed of a better life for himself, his wife and three children.

A 14-year veteran of the Eritrean military, Tesfay fled in the hopes that his children would avoid the country’s compulsory military service and being forced to fight in seemingly endless conflicts.

Once Tesfay made his way to Stockholm, the Swedish Migration Agency immediately granted him political asylum and provided him with a studio apartment.

“Sweden is one of the most democratic countries. They help immigrants, and I thought Sweden’s government would help me bring my family,” Tesfay told Catholic News Service April 22. “They welcomed me; they were good, they helped me in a good way.”

However, nearly seven years after arriving in Sweden, Tesfay said the country that welcomed him with open arms is now turning its back on him, his family and countless other refugees.

The Swedish government in early April pushed forward a bill to permanently enact several temporary measures adopted in the wake of the 2015 migrant crisis, including tightening regulations for family reunification.

The bill, which is set to go to parliament in May, would be among the most restrictive in Europe if passed. Religious and secular aid groups in the country, including Caritas Sweden and the Church of Sweden, have called for amendments on humanitarian grounds, including changes that would facilitate family reunifications.

The Swedish Migration Agency tells migrants and refugees that they must prove “you have regular, work-related income that allows you to support yourself, other people in your household, and the family members who are applying for a residence permit.”

Furthermore, refugees “must also have a home of sufficient size and standard for all” family members.

While the maintenance requirements are meant to ensure an adequate quality of life for refugees and their families, Tesfay told CNS that the requirements needed for him to reunite with his family have become unrealistic.

“I work as an assistant nurse and I have permanent employment. I paid almost 80,000 Swedish kronor ($9,517) in taxes this year,” he explained.

However, his gross monthly salary of 21,500 kronor ($2,550) is not enough to support his wife and three children. Additionally, with a studio apartment in Stockholm costing an average of $1,400 a month, it is nearly impossible for Tesfay to meet the housing requirement.

“Why would they ask for that; I don’t understand,” he said. “For me, this means they don’t want to bring my family. That’s the point.”

Tesfay told CNS the situation has strained his relationship with his wife and children who have now fled to neighboring Ethiopia.

“They’re sad. They don’t believe me. They tell me, ‘You lied to us.’ I speak with them every day, but they don’t believe me. They only know that Sweden is a democratic country,” he said. “The situation isn’t good in Ethiopia. There is war, so I am scared. I don’t know what to do. I am stressed.”

He also told CNS that the issue with the migration bill is not a question of financial help but is a matter of empathy.

“Everybody here lives with their family. I need my kids, my wife. Why can’t I bring my family?” he asked. “Why would (the government) grant me permanent residency, yet not want me to bring my family. If I have a job, then I am responsible for them. I don’t want to ask the government to give me money. No, I don’t need to ask the government. I’ll solve my own problems.”

Nevertheless, Tesfay said that while he will continue to live and work in Sweden, the prospect of living a life without his family is grim.

“For me, there is nothing in Sweden now. I live here, but I am nothing without my family,” he told CNS. “I won’t go back, but I have nothing without my family.”

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