A nurse at a hospital in Sweden’s capital of Stockholm is trying to reach me on my mobile via social media. I don’t answer. She is not the only one trying to contact me. It is one of those days when I barely have time for anything beyond responding to endless emails.
The nurse is persistent, texting me in capital letters, exclamation points, she is trying her best to get my attention. She pleads for help. Her aunt’s husband died in Syria, I shrug, many are dying in Syria. This final thought has left me feeling ashamed of myself and my reaction to her impassioned messages. Then the nurse continues, she writes that with the death of her uncle and her aunt in Sweden, four children are now left without any adult supervision in Syria. Now I understand her earnestness and the severity of the situation. I put everything else aside. Four children are in need of urgent help.
Her aunt had come to Sweden three years ago, a month before ISIS invaded the city she lived in. Her husband persuaded her to leave the family and go all the way to Sweden with the help of smugglers as they couldn’t afford to get the whole family out. Once in Sweden, the hope was that the aunt could apply for family reunification in order to bring her husband and children to safety in Sweden.
After a long trip filled with drama and traumatic experiences, she finally arrived in Sweden. She was given a residence permit and the struggle to bring her family here then began. Simultaneously the situation in the Middle East was drastically and quickly changing; Turkey and Jordan would close their borders to Syria. In order to get to Sweden the husband and children would now need to relocate to a country where they could be interviewed by the Swedish embassies.
With help from an American relative, the nurse’s Aunt wrote impassioned letters to Swedish embassies in the Middle East, the UN refugee agency UNHCR, and to Queen Rania of Jordan After years of struggle, good news arrived with the Queen Rania willing to make an exception for the family and grant passage to Amman to visit the Swedish embassy there.
Yet the road to Jordan is perilous. With the constant threat of an ongoing and brutal conflict around them, there is the added fear that the eldest child, a 17-year-old daughter, would be kidnapped. But they have no choice but to leave. Suddenly the stress becomes too great for the man. He gives up. He has a stroke and dies. The children are left alone. That’s when the nurse in Stockholm contacts me.
I ask for all the documents, the ones from the Swedish Migration Agency, email conversations between Swedish missions and the United Nations, the Jordanian queen’s reply; I also ask for the Uncle’s death certificate. It doesn’t take long, about five hours before I’m completely involved in the case. I email the Migration Agency and ask if they can do anything to help the Aunt and her trapped children. I also ask if she is at risk of losing her Swedish residence permit if she travels to collect her children in Syria. She has understandably become “mad” with worry and insists on taking the first flight to Lebanon to then continue onto Syria.
I also write to the Foreign Ministry.
A week later, the children are safe and the Swedish authorities make an exception based on the conventions we have ratified.
Rescuing children and giving them a safe environment and a better life: I am very grateful to be part of A Demand For Action, an organization that on a weekly basis deals with situations like the one I describe here.
Translated by Daniela Barhanna