Swedish same-sex couple welcomes Muslim family
The last thing Syrian refugee Ahmed, a devout Muslim, expected when he arrived in Sweden with his two teenaged children last November was that they would be living in a church.
The Swedish Migration Agency registration centre in Gothenburg was full and officials had to find alternative accommodation for some of the new arrivals.
Ahmad, 45, said it was one of the best things that happened to them.
“They received us with so much love, compassion and care,” he said. “They were angels.”
At the church, he met Gabriella and Candel, two volunteers with the organization Refugees Welcome which tries to match refugees with local hosts. Gabriella said that every time they visited the church they would see Ahmad sweeping the floors, playing with the children or helping with translations.
“He was always smiling, always eager to help,” Gabriella said.
Gabriella and her partner, Candel, wanted to find somewhere better for Ahmad and his children, Ali, 18, and 16-year-old Hiba.
We offered him a room in our house, and then we told him we are married.
Church funding ran out and it could no longer afford to keep hosting the refugees, so Gabriella and Candel offered Ahmad, Ali and Hiba their empty guest room. However, there was one sensitive matter that had not yet been discussed.
“We called and offered him a room in our house, and then we told him we are married,” Gabriella said. “He was very nice and polite but it all got very quiet. We thought he might change his mind.”
He did not.
It was a double shock for Ahmad. He was still trying to get over the fact that the priest’s daughter was agnostic, and now he discovered she was in a same-sex marriage.
“But I see how kind they are, I see their humanity, their love and kindness,” he said.
They gave me life again.
Ahmad had lived in Kuwait for 30 years. He was doing well, working in construction and development, when a series of unfortunate events forced him to flee. His wife died last year, then he lost his job in Kuwait and thus his work permit and residency. Back home, his house in the city of Homs was destroyed in the conflict.
His application for a visa to go to Sweden was unsuccessful, so he flew to Turkey and made the hazardous journey to Greece then onwards to Sweden, like thousands of refugees.
Candel said that living with Ahmad and his children had been very smooth.
“We get an extended family, we get to know about a new language, great food, and culture and they get a fast track into society,” she said.
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.