Married couple Gabriella and Candel Webster host Syrian refugee Ahmad.
GOTHENBURG, Sweden – The last thing Syrian refugee Ahmad, a devout Muslim, expected when he arrived in Sweden with his two teenaged children last November was that they would be living in a church.
The Swedish Migration Agency’s registration centre in Gothenburg was full, so officials had to find alternative accommodation for some of the new arrivals. Ahmad, 45, said it was one of the best things that happened to them.
“They received us with so much love, compassion and care,” he said. “They were angels.”
At the church, he met Gabriella and Candel, two volunteers with the organization Refugees Welcome, which tries to match refugees with local hosts. Gabriella said that every time they visited the church they would see Ahmad sweeping the floors, playing with the children or helping with translations.
“He was always smiling, always eager to help,” Gabriella said.
Gabriella and her partner, Candel, wanted to find somewhere better for Ahmad and his children, Ali, 18, and 16-year-old Hiba.
Church funding ran out, and it could no longer afford to keep hosting the refugees, so Gabriella and Candel offered Ahmad, Ali and Hiba their empty guest room. However, there was one sensitive matter that had not yet been discussed.
“I see how kind they are. I see their humanity, their love and kindness.”
“We called and offered him a room in our house, and then we told him we are married,” Gabriella said. “He was very nice and polite but it all got very quiet. We thought he might change his mind.”
He did not.
As Ahmad was trying to get his bearings in his new surroundings, he was also wrapping his head around the fact that Gabriella and Candel were in a same-sex marriage.
“I see how kind they are. I see their humanity, their love and kindness,” he said. “They run to take care of people who are not even from their own country nor speak their own language. They gave me life again.”
Ahmad had lived in Kuwait for 30 years. He was doing well, working in construction and development, when a series of unfortunate events forced him to flee. His wife died last year, then he lost his job in Kuwait and thus his work permit and residency. Back home in Syria, his house in the city of Homs was destroyed in the conflict.
His application for a visa to go to Sweden was unsuccessful, so he flew to Turkey and made the hazardous journey to Greece, then onwards to Sweden, like thousands of refugees.
Candel said that living with Ahmad and his children had been very smooth.
“We get an extended family, we get to know about a new language, great food, and culture, and they get a fast track into society,” she said.
This story is part of a series entitled No Stranger Place, which was developed and photographed by Aubrey Wade in partnership with UNHCR, profiling refugees and their hosts across Europe. One year on from the drowning of three-year-old Syrian refugee Alan Kurdi, thousands of people have come together to bridge cultural divides and language barriers, embracing compassion, hope and humanity – even as some European governments continue to build obstacles. Their generosity is an example to the world.