An oasis for young refugees in Sweden

Mikaela Berg and Omid Mahmoudi work at ‘Mötesplats Otto’: an open space for young unaccompanied refugees in Malmö, Sweden. In this interview, Mikaela and Omid talk about their work, the youngsters they work with and the worrying political climate in Sweden. ‘If we weren’t here for them, no one would be.’

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The most important role of Mötesplats Otto is to provide a sense of belonging for the unaccompanied refugees, and to offer a place where they are welcome. And that is much needed in the increasingly cold Swedish migration politics. Youngsters come to ’Otto’ to meet an adult if they need to talk, to take part in the many cultural or sport activities, to eat, do their homework or to receive legal advice on migrattion law or social issues.

Mikaela and Omid have been part of Mötesplats Otto since its beginning. They say that they are worried about the current political development in Sweden. Mikaela: ”Here at Otto we see the consequences of the harsher migration politics. As a result of the mental and economic distress and homelessness, many youngsters turn to drugs. This is also connected to the very inhuman and long waiting that young unaccompanied refugees are exposed to.” Omid adds: “The situation in Sweden is inhuman and the new political agreement called the TIDÖ-agreement is creating an enormous amount of stress for the participants at Otto.” [An agreement of the new government including far-reaching repressive proposals on migration, red.]

’Not helping is not an option’ 

Mikaela and Omid see the importance of creating an oasis where young refugees can think about something else but their problems for a little while. At Otto the warm, cozy and inviting atmosphere allows them to take a break and just enjoy life for a moment. Here, everyone is entitled to be a human being amongst others. Mikaela: “The good and beautiful thing is that we are doing this together. We all find hope here, and that’s what keeps us going.” 

Omid: “The hard thing is when you see how society around you is going in the wrong direction and how it affects the people that visit Otto. This place has introduced me to such wonderful people, and sometimes it is hard not to be able to give them an assurance that they will be safe.”

When asked what their driving force is, Omid answers: “We can't afford not to do this. There is no other institution in society that does what we do. If we weren’t here for these people, no one would be. I come from the same background, so for me not helping others is not an option. We must because the situation for asylum seekers isn't sustainable.

Mikaela: “For me, being part of this is a way to share my privileges as white. Everyone deserves to be welcomed, with kindness and humanity. We try to see the existing needs and adapt the activities accordingly. We are very flexible. This place is characterized by solidarity. It is a warm and safe place. I am happy to be part of it.”