Journalists were introduced to the topics of refugees

Estonian Human Rights Centre organised a study visit for Estonian journalists to Sweden in October 4-6. The aim of the visit was to introduce them the topics of asylum seekers and refugees and their situation in Estonia and in Sweden.

The program was quite tight – it started with an introduction on board where the manager of the refugee program in ERHC Kristi Toodo explained the meaning of terminology, the procedure as well as statistsics and local organisations who deal with the topic. Katrin Nyman-Metcalf, a professor at Tallinn University of Technology, started a discussion on political correctness, self-censorship and freedom of speech and ethics.
The program in Stockholm was organised by our good friends at UNHCR – we visited the Swedish Migration Board (and the detention centre in Märsta) and the office of UNHCR.
Niclas Axelssons gave an overview of the Swedish migration policy, the work of the Migration Board, about the statistics and procedure. The journalists also had an opportunity to visit the detention centre in Märsta.
In the detention centre there are 25 places for women and 35 places for men, also room for max 2-3 families. The cases that end up in Märsta are the extreme ones where people resist being sent back.
The first thing that happens in Märsta is an interview with the detainee – the interview will be held in their native language if necessary. After that a thorough backround check will follow which may take up to one year.
The detainees have a right to use cellphones (without cameras), internet, praying room, eating  room, gym, smoking room and at certain times the patio. The nurse visits the detention centre twice a week and if necessary the detainees will be escorted to see a doctor.
All together there are five detention centres in Sweden which can host up to 250 people. Considering the number of people who flee to Sweden, that is definitely not enough since there are over 15 000 potential detainees “missing”. The procentage of escaping the detention centre is also quite high, but taking into account the safety of the workers there it doesn’t seem safe to stop it without the help from the police. Unlike the detention centre in Harku, the workers in Märsta do not have a uniform, guns or other protection. Different NGOs organise events in the detention centre to try to make the procedure of returning home as painless as possible.
Out of respect for the detainees there was no filming, taking photos or interviewing the detainees possible in Märsta.
In the office of UNHCR we had a seminar with the Swedish journalists who cover the topics of asylum seekers and refugees.
Paul Hansen (from the newspaper Dagnes Nyheter) visits different crisis areas to cover the real situation there in the paper as well. He finds that this kind of an approach has change a lot of peoples attitudes towards this topic. David Qviström from the newspaper Kyrkans Tidning began covering the topic through individual cases. A journalist from the Swedish Radio, Arash Mokhtari, was quite critical of the covering of minorities in general. He said that the “us” vs “them” discourse is formulated constantly.
After the busy day in Stockholm there was a final seminar on board where the situations in Sweden and in Estonia were compared.
All together 15 journalists participated – from Postimes, ETV, Aja Leht, Eesti Ekspress, Radio 4, Russian Delfi, Djen za Dnjom, Krasivaja Žizn, Narvaskaja Gazeta, Põhjarannik, Virumaa Teataja and Pärnu Postimees. The general feedback was very positive and most of the participants would like to visit the reception centre in Illuka and the detention centre in Harku as well as some crisis areas from where many of the refugees flee.
Photos can be found here:
The study visit was part of the awareness raising project on the issues of international foced migration. The project is co-financed by the Estonian Ministry of Interior and the European Union through the European Refugee Fund.

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