Architect helps Syrian trio build new life in Sweden
Architect Lars Asklund was deeply moved by the images on television of thousands of people arriving in Sweden in 2015. He wanted to help, but he did not know how.
First, he went to the migration authorities in Malmö and told them he had two empty guest rooms. Nothing happened. Then he went to a nearby camp where new immigrants were being processed and housed temporarily.
He approached a young man who had a small child, but was reluctant to take on the responsibility of housing a child. So he turned to the man standing behind, Waleed Lababidi, who had been translating.
“I asked him three questions: ‘Are you married? ‘He said yes. ‘Do you have kids?’ he said no. I looked him straight in the eye and asked: ‘Are you a fundamentalist?’ He said no. I told him ‘OK, I have a good proposal for you’.”
Waleed, 29 and his wife, Farah Hilal, 25, are refugees from Syria. They and Farah’s 22-year-old brother, Milad Hilal, now share Lars’s apartment.
Waleed remembers their first night at Lars’s place. “We were exhausted,” he said. “We had dinner and didn’t talk much. He gave us a set of keys. The minute we closed the door to our room we were so relieved, Farah started crying from joy. We could finally settle some place.”
A month after they moved in, Lars invited Farah’s brother, Milad, to join them for Christmas. The four had an enjoyable time and got along well. Milad was still living at the camp. When Lars drove him back to the camp afterwards, he saw the “depressing” conditions at the camp, where 580 young men were crammed in.
“I just couldn’t leave him there. I told him to pack his belongs,” Lars said. “He was coming back with me.”
For me it’s fun. I have new friends and I really like them.
Farah, Milad and Waleed became internally displaced long before they left Syria. They fled their home in 2012, first staying in hotels, or with relatives or friends. Eventually, during one family dinner, a missile landed across the street, burning everything, and they decided to leave. “The minute we saw daylight we packed whatever we could and ran,” Waleed said.
The four always have breakfast together, and sometimes dinner. Waleed, Farah, Milad and some other refugees gather each week at Lars’s big kitchen table for a two-hour Swedish language class. One of the neighbors, a retired teacher, also provides an additional hour of language instruction per week. Another friend takes them grocery shopping.
“For me it’s fun,” said Lars. “It’s fantastic, I have new friends and I really like them.”
“They help me out a lot. Sometimes they walk the dog. They started to clean more and more and so my cleaning lady got upset and left.”
Lars is constantly throwing parties to try and introduce them to people in the community and help them network.
“He cares so much,” said Milad. “He studies with me, even when he comes late at night. He is always discussing with his friends how to help us with our career. We are so lucky to have met him.”
Portrait by Aubrey Wade
Assisted by Stjepan Sedlar
Text by Nadine Alfa
This story is part of the No Stranger Place series, which tells stories of refugees and locals living together in Europe. The project was initiated by Aubrey Wade, Sarah Böttcher and Stjepan Sedlar, and developed in partnership with UNHCR and Nadine Alfa.