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The Trauma of Facing Deportation

April 3, 2017

The New Yorker | Rachel Aviv

In Sweden, hundreds of refugee children have fallen unconscious after being informed that their families will be expelled from the country.

Georgi, a Russian refugee who came to Sweden with his family when he was five years old, could talk at length about the virtues of the Volvo. His doctor described him as “the most ‘Swedeified’ in his family.” He was also one of the most popular boys in his class. For his thirteenth birthday, two friends listed some of the qualities that he evoked: energetic, fun, happy all the time, good human being, amazingly kind, awesome at soccer, sly.

Georgi’s father, Soslan, had helped found a pacifist religious sect in North Ossetia, a Russian province that borders Georgia. Soslan said that in 2007 security forces demanded that he disband the sect, which rejected the entanglement of the Russian Orthodox Church with the state, and threatened to kill him if he refused. He fled to Sweden with his wife, Regina, and their two children, and applied for asylum, but his claim was denied, because the Swedish Migration Board said that he hadn’t proved that he would be persecuted if he returned to Russia.

Sweden permits refugees to reapply for asylum, and in 2014, having lived in hiding in central Sweden for six years, the family tried again. They argued that there were now “particularly distressing circumstances,” a provision that allowed the board to consider how deportation will affect a child’s psychological health. “It would be devastating if Georgi were forced to leave his community, his friends, his school, and his life,” the headmaster of Georgi’s school, Rikard Floridan, wrote in a letter to the board. He described Georgi as “an example to all classmates,” a student who spoke in “mature and nuanced language” and showed a “deep gratitude for the school.”

In the summer of 2015, shortly before he entered seventh grade, Georgi learned that the Migration Board had rejected his family’s application again. The news came in a letter, which he translated for his parents, who couldn’t read Swedish.

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