Architect Lars Asklund was deeply moved by the images of thousands of people arriving in Sweden in 2015. He wanted to help, but didn’t know how.
He went to an asylum centre where he approached a man, Waleed Lababidi. “I asked him three questions: ‘Are you married?’ He said yes. ‘Do you have kids?’ He said no. I looked him straight in the eye and asked: ‘Are you a fundamentalist?’ He said no. I told him ‘Okay, I have a good proposal for you’.” Waleed, 29, and his wife, Farah, 25, are Syrian refugees. They and Farah’s 22-year-old brother, Milad Hilal, now share Lars’s apartment.
Waleed remembers their first night at Lars’s place. “We were exhausted,” he said. “We had dinner and didn’t talk much. He gave us a set of keys. The minute we closed the door to our room we were so relieved — Farah started crying from joy. We could finally settle some place.” Farah, Milad and Waleed were displaced inside Syria long before they left the country. They fled their home in 2012, staying in hotels, or with relatives or friends. Eventually, during a family dinner, a missile landed across the street, burning everything, and they decided they had to go. “The minute we saw daylight we packed whatever we could and ran,” Waleed said.
Waleed, Farah, Milad and some other refugees gather each week at Lars’s big kitchen table for a two-hour Swedish language class. Another friend takes them grocery shopping. “For me it’s fun,” said Lars. “It’s fantastic — I have new friends and I really like them.” Lars is constantly throwing parties to introduce them to people in the community and help them network. “He cares so much,” said Milad. “He studies with me, even when he comes late at night. He is always discussing with his friends how to help us with our career. We are so lucky to have met him.”