"Everyone has a dream of healthy children, nice friends"

Alice Petrén, migration correspondent for Swedish Radio, explains how meeting one refugee family from Afghanistan affected her in particular.

“They came in April, just after the treaty with Turkey and they thought they would have an interview in the summer, then October and then January. They were transferred to Athens to have an interview and now the father’s writing that they will have an interview in the summer 2017.

The children didn’t go to school and there are two children of school age and the boy is very observant.”

Petrén gave the family a small amount of money on three occasions out of her own pocket.

“He has been writing to me and asking for more money and I told him, ‘I am a journalist, not an activist’. I cannot go over that border again. I did it because I felt very much for the family, but then I realised it wasn’t such a good idea because it raises expectations and I cannot live up to these expectations so I had better stop it.”

Petrén has noticed that, “migrants are treated by officials mostly as numbers and groups without names.

“They are Africans, they are migrants, they are black people. I’m in Sicily at the moment and in front of me now I can see six or seven [migrants] walking on the square and people will say ‘they shouldn’t be here’, so that’s the attitude and of course when you’re a policeman or a coastguard they are no longer individuals.

“I think it is important to understand that as a journalist my job is to make them individuals, that everyone has a dream of healthy children, nice friends, good economy or whatever it is, on a human level, they are universal dreams.”

Alice Petrén has been Swedish Radio's migration correspondent since late 2015. Prior to that, she was southern European correspondent for the public service broadcaster, a role in which she frequently covered migration issues. Her current position, focusing as it does exclusively on the refugee crisis, allowed her to cover the story in considerable depth.

This interview was conducted in May 2016 by INSI director Hannah Storm as part of INSI’s report The Emotional Toll on Journalists Covering the Refugee Crisis, which was launched in July 2017.

Photo by Alice Petrén