Arabic newspaper aims to build bridges in Sweden
The 10-staffer newspaper is the country’s first Arabic-speaking newspaper
As conflict continues to plague much of the Middle East and as tens of thousands of asylum seekers line European shores, immigration has become a phenomenon Europe can no longer afford to ignore. Sweden, once described as the “most successful society the world has ever known” by the Guardian, has found itself dealing with the issue of integration.
Aiming to target the fast-growing Arab refugee community, a free Arabic-speaking newspaper, Öresunds Puls, was launched in March to become “the voice of immigrants in Sweden,” co-founder Mohamed Halwani told Al Arabiya News.
The 10-staffer newspaper is the country’s first Arabic-speaking newspaper, distributing 10,000 copies every two weeks. Öresunds Puls is Swedish for “Pulse of Oresund,” the strait that separates the Danish island Zealand from the Swedish province of Scania.
As of 2013, statistics agency Eurostat put the number of immigrants arriving to Sweden at 115,845. Being the first European country to open its doors to Syrian refugees, the Scandinavian country became the highest per capita recipient of asylum seeking applicants in the European Union.
But renting a place, getting a housing a loan, attesting a school degree can prove cumbersome for some of the new comers fleeing war zones and poverty, which is why the newspaper has dedicated an entire page for tips and guides for living in Sweden.
“When the Syrian, Lebanese or Iraqi move to Sweden, they need a mentor,” explained Halwani, who is also the newspaper’s director of sales and marketing.
“We see lots of things that we think the Swedish community is not feeling. We want to help all immigrants and all refugees by giving them tips,” he said.
“We don’t want them to waste their time like we did,” he added.
Despite the wide range of government funding programs, the non-profit publication is currently operating through advertisement revenues and self-funding.
“We don’t take support from anyone,” said Halwani. “We didn’t want to ask for money from the beginning.”
Asked about why the newspaper is distributed for free, Halwani said: “In Sweden, we are taught to work for free. We work for free for the sake of the community. We miss that in the Middle East. We want our country and community to look better.”
But with the fast-paced exposure the newspaper is receiving, the team might eventually seek the government’s help.
“Sweden is a big country. A lot of people are asking for the newspaper to be delivered to their homes and offices and we cannot do that,” Halwani said. The newspaper currently being distributed at fixed locations.
Öresunds Puls also plans to expand into publishing in the Danish language.
Despite being a community paper, Arab affairs often times make it into the newspaper’s headlines.
Halwani explained that the team seeks to explain the region’s affairs through the “lens of the Swedish community.”
But not when it comes to controversial topics such as Prophet Mohammed’s cartoons. Halwani said he wants his paper to remain “neutral.”
“It is not obligatory to publish the cartoons. We are Arabs, we are Muslims. This is something we don’t mess with,” he said.
Half of the newspaper is published in the Swedish language. But the Swedish content is not simply a translation but discusses different topics, emphasized Halwani.
“We want to persuade the Arabic reader to read in Swedish language. This is how we think we can help him to integrate more and practice his language,” explained Halwani.
Sometimes “important articles,” such as interviews with immigrations officials, end up being written in Swedish only, he added.
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