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Expectations meet reality

All that glitters

The Illusion

“For me, it feels like I’ve bought a cinema ticket to a movie that has already ended.”

It is late afternoon and six Somali men are seated around a table at a youth center in Malmö, Sweden. They’re engaged in an animated conversation about what their expectations were of Europe before they arrived versus what they’ve actually encountered.

All of them are in their early twenties, and travelled to Europe from Somalia between 2008 and 2012 when they were teenagers. Today, together with friends from Afghanistan, they have created an association called The National Unaccompanied Minors Association (Ensamkommandes Förbund), which primarily works with lobbying and advocacy for unaccompanied minors in Sweden.

The conversation revolves around the picture they had of Europe and the dreams they thought would be fulfilled by coming here— like getting a good education, good jobs, good cars, and a better life. They speak of what it was like to finally get here only to realize that it was all an illusion; that the Europe they longed to reach, and were willing to leave Somalia for, turned out to be nothing like the utopia they had imagined.

“I had a vision that when I got to Europe I would gain a lot of things, like a better future,” Says Mubarak. “Only when we arrived here did we discover the truth, that life here is much more difficult than the one back home.” This distorted image of Europe, they say, is perpetuated by the diaspora who tell false stories of their lives in Europe.

The discussion takes a different turn as the group starts to recount their memories of Somalia. The air is nostalgic with a hint of regret. “Life was simpler back home. We used to play football, do our own things, go to school, there was no time-schedule for everything.” Says Nimis. “But here, life became like a difficult project.”

Their friends back in Somlia still insist on making the journey, despite warnings of its perils and the reality of life in Europe. “They think there is good life in Europe, they see this beautiful picture of snowy Europe and think it’s perfect. They don’t see all the depressed people here.”

All six men experienced a difficult journey getting here. Some were imprisoned, and most of them lost friends in the Sahara. Now they are part of the diaspora, a state they once envied and longed to be part of. Despite having made it, they do not feel it was worth the struggle or the money.

Watch the group discuss the reality of their life in Europe.

Date of interview: 29 May 2015  |  Last modified: 15 April 2016  |
Interview by: Fuad Muhamed Sharif  |  Written by: Christa Awuor Odinga  |  Video by: Viktor Nordenskiöld