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After years of separation, the whole family was reunited in 2008. Everyone in the household still vividly remembers the hard times and radiates joy about their current circumstances.

“I will never forget that day,” says 25–year–old Ragad about the family’s reunion, little more than two years ago. “I had not slept so well in years. Finally, we were together and safe.”

The family split apart for the first time in 2002, when Nadia Jarjis fled to Sweden with her youngest daughter, 5–year–old Dunia. She hoped her husband and remaining children would later join them. Little did they know at the time that six long, anxiety–filled years would pass before that would happen.

For a long time, life in Sweden for the mother and daughter was extremely difficult. Relatives and friends took turns putting them up, shuffling the two among their overcrowded apartments. Traumatized by the constant moving, Dunia had trouble sleeping most nights and her mother developed an anxiety disorder, for which doctors prescribed medication.

Finally after two years, local immigration and refugee services settled them in a rooming house. Not until 2006, a year and a half later, did the Swedish Migration Board grant them asylum.

Dunia, now 14, recalls the day they were notified.

“Mom became a completely different person,” she says, beaming.

Two years later, the rest of the family moved to Sweden. The family has since adjusted to life in Sweden astonishingly well and have only positive things to say about their adopted country.

“In Iraq, you could only dream of achieving your goals,” says 22–year–old Reem. “But here everyone has a chance to study or work if they want to.”

A faithful Christian, Ragad feels relieved to express her faith freely. In Sweden, she says, she can make the sign of the cross whenever she wishes, without anyone paying any attention.

“In Sweden, no one cares about my religion,” says Ragad. “Muslims and Christians respect one another. Sometimes, I think about how they treated us in Iraq. But I know that they, just like us, have fled Iraq because they had problems there. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be here.”

Though Ragad and Reem moved to Sweden as adults, they now speak Swedish fluently.

In Iraq, Ragad briefly attended college, but had to postpone her studies when war broke out and she and the family fled to Syria. Now, she is taking prerequisites with hopes of attending one of Sweden’s pharmacy schools.

“Ragad has always been a good student,” Nadia Jarjis says. “She has lost a lot of years, but we hope she will be able to catch up soon.”

Dunia also excels academically. She began school in Sweden and has no memories of her early childhood in Iraq.

For Dunia, Swedish is her native language, and she always speaks it with her older brother, 16–year–old Ragheed, who has mastered the language remarkably well in just two years.

The family considers Dunia the “real” Swede. “She thinks in a Swedish way,” says Sahir Alslivi about his youngest daughter.

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Tags: Iraq Refugees Immigration Assimilation Sweden