In A Small Swedish Town, Residents Welcome Migrants : Parallels Per capita, Sweden has taken in more migrants than any country in Europe. "The only thing you can do is to help them," says a Swedish volunteer teaching newcomers the language in the town of Ronneby.
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In A Small Swedish Town, Residents Welcome Migrants

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In A Small Swedish Town, Residents Welcome Migrants

In A Small Swedish Town, Residents Welcome Migrants

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Per capita, Sweden has taken in more migrants than any other country in Europe. Faced with the challenge of absorbing them all, the Swedish government decided that every municipality across the country must accept its share of migrants. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley visited one small town and sends this report.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Temperatures hover around freezing, but it's warm inside this university building that now serves as a migrant reception center in the southern Swedish town of Ronneby.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: (Foreign language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: OK, (foreign language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: (Foreign language spoken).

BEARDSLEY: Twice a week, volunteers come from the community to help the newly arrived migrants fill out forms or learn Swedish.

MIA GUSTAFSSON: They are very, very smart and eager to learn.

BEARDSLEY: Seventy-seven-year-old volunteer Mia Gustafsson says the experience has been rewarding.

GUSTAFSSON: Here in Ronneby, we have a very old population, and it's very stimulating to get to know other cultures.

BEARDSLEY: One of her students is 27-year-old Afghan Zahra Jafari, who arrived in Sweden seven months ago with her 4-year-old daughter on foot.

ZAHRA JAFARI: Walking in Turkiya, next Yunan, and next Autriche, next Denmark, one month walking.

BEARDSLEY: Jafari says her life was threatened from the Taliban and ISIS. I ask why she chose to come to Sweden.

JAFARI: People say the Swedish is very good for children. I'm going to Sweden just for daughter.

BEARDSLEY: Tourists also come to this 18th-century spa town known for its mineral waters and baths. Ronneby, population 30,000, has a university and a strong IT sector. In the past three years, the town has taken in nearly 2,500 migrants, including 200 unaccompanied minors. Refugees now make up nearly 12 percent of the town's population. I ask volunteer Margareta Waldolf if some people get upset by all the migrants.

MARGARETA WALDOLF: Yes, of course, they do. People get scared and worried and think that it will be - influence their life.

BEARDSLEY: Waldolf had a career teaching Swedish to foreigners as her country opened its doors to refugees. In the '70s, she taught Argentinians and Chileans fleeing military dictatorships. In the '80s and '90s, it was Poles and Kosovars. She says Sweden has always absorbed its newcomers, but Waldolf admits this time may be more difficult, especially with all the unaccompanied minors. She says some people fear an increase in crime.

WALDOLF: Youngsters arrive here. They have been brought up with no parents. Maybe they are a kind of street children, wild. That makes problems.

BEARDSLEY: Retired engineer Kent Norman is poring over a book with a neatly dressed Syrian teenager.

KENT NORMAN: I try to teach Mohamed, who is 16 years old. And you have been here for...

MOHAMED OBAI: (Foreign language spoken).

NORMAN: Three months.

OBAI: (Foreign language spoken).

BEARDSLEY: Mohamed Obai describes in Swedish how he fled Syria with his parents. Obai says he's waiting for a spot to open up in a local school. In the meantime, he says he's grateful to Norman. Norman says like it or not, the migrants are here.

NORMAN: Only thing you can do is to help them, and I have a lot of time to do it, so that's why I'm sitting here now (laughter).

BEARDSLEY: Norman says he had his first Syrian meal with Obai's family last week, and now he plans to invite them to dinner at his house. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Ronneby, Sweden.

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