“It’s a privilege to have two cultures.”
Jan Olov Svanberg is a dedicated individual who currently works full-time as a special representative for 14 unaccompanied minors. I met with him together with Roholla and Walikan, two boys who’ve recently arrived in Sweden from Afghanistan. Jan Olov has a glow about him, and you can tell he’s the right man in the right place.
For many years Jan Olov has regularly come into contact with unaccompanied minors through the church he’s involved in. When he met a colleague who was a special representative, the idea was born to leave his job as the manager of a group home and instead spend all his time helping unaccompanied minors.
“My wife and I have always had a heart for children and young people so it felt like the right thing for me to do”, says Jan Olov.
What’s expected of you as a special representative?
“Most of all, the role is about taking charge of the young people’s rights and ensuring that they’re treated well in the various different situations they find themselves in. I’m in contact with each of them at least once or twice a month, in conjunction with performance reviews in school, doctor’s appointments, meetings with lawyers, or interviews with the Migration Board. I’m also responsible for all their legal matters, such as applications for study loans, school placements, and finances.”
What’s the best thing about being a special representative?
“Knowing that you’re making a difference in the lives of vulnerable children and young people. Seeing an unaccompanied minor go from being anxious and scared when they arrive in Sweden, to becoming a confident, Swedish-speaking college student with hope and aspirations, and perhaps even join them going to meet their family at Arlanda, in just the space of a couple of years, is fantastic.”
What are some of the challenges you face?
“The biggest challenge is when the Migration Board decides to deny a child residency and to deport them from Sweden to very unstable and dangerous circumstances in another country. Roughly one in four unaccompanied minors under 18 who comes to Sweden is rejected residency and deported.”
What advice would you give a young person who’s new to Sweden?
“To try to retain the best things from your own culture 100%, and at the same time adopt the best things from Swedish culture 100%. It’s a privilege to have two cultures. Those of us born in Sweden only have one culture”, says Jan Olov and smiles.