Laith has been told that I am taking him to a shelter, but I could be taking him anywhere.
It wouldn’t be the first time someone told him he was headed somewhere, only to find himself somewhere else entirely.
Like when the people smugglers told him that he would be getting on a plane to Sweden, where he would be whisked away and given a place to live, and his family would be brought to him.
With his excellent English – learned working with the Americans as a policeman during the occupation of Baghdad – he would easily get a job.
Or so the smugglers said.
The plane was mysteriously cancelled.
Instead, he wound up in a boat packed with people, making the journey from Turkey to Greece.
The motor died.
So did some of the people.
The women with children panicked more.
Laith thought it was natural. They were the ones with the most to lose.
He and some of the other strong young men tried to swim ahead and pull the boat.
Some of them died too.
So too did a little bit of Laith.
Swimming for his life and the lives of others, and those of his nine-month old child and his wife hidden in her parents’ house in Iraq, sheer pig-headedness would keep him going.
He made it.
First to Greece, then to Copenhagen and Malmö and Stockholm.
At the first shelter in Stockholm there was a disagreement over space with some Syrians.
Laith and his friends were asked to leave. When you have nothing, you protect it fiercely, even if it costs you.
Laith left and came to Akalla with his friends, where he spent the night. I drove them there.
The next day, someone else drove him back to the Central Station.
All he wanted to do was go home to Iraq, but for now he would have to keep going – to Finland, probably – until he found somewhere safe for his wife and child.
The tension – especially when strengthened by the lack of a common language – when in the car with people like Laith is palpable.
They have a story to tell.
It is a story of a life left behind, with no idea when or where or if it will be picked up again.
For some, it works out OK. For others, not.
Many of them don’t want to tell that story.
Some have no choice.
Today, we closed the shelter. A few cars gathered to take the last dozen or so guests to different places.
Some headed to the Central Station, to follow Laith’s path towards Finland, the trip getting colder and darker the further north they came.
Others had given up.
Lonely for their families, told that they had little chance of being granted asylum, or just put off by the cold and the dark and exhausted by the grinding fucking drudgery of being on the run, they gave in.
Some agreed to return to a home they risked so much to leave.
This morning they would fly back there.
I drove them to the terminal.
There were more bodies than bags or suitcases. One man asked if he could have a rucksack to take with him. His friends laughed at him.
“You don’t have anything to put in it!”
The tension wasn’t as palpable on the journey to the airport, but it was still there.
At least now they knew where they were going.
But where they are going is the very reason why they left.
As they took what little they had out of the van, they convinced themselves and each other that this is what they wanted all along.
“Al-bayt, al bayt.”
Today the last guests at the temporary shelter in Husby set up by local residents left, and the doors closed for the last time.
Having had to move premises twice while catering for hundreds of refugees over three weeks, it is no longer possible for the shelter to carry on – the resources in terms of time and money are just not there.
The “refugee crisis”, as it has become known, will continue, and we will continue to help in any other way we can.
This essay is dedicated to Leo Ahmed, Sonja Dousa and to everyone who gave anything during the last three weeks – all over Scandinavia, people sleep tonight on a pillow of your kindness.