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Sink or Swim! Sweden Launches New Initiative to Prevent Migrants From Drowning

© AP Photo / Santi PalaciosA migrant swimming
A migrant swimming - Sputnik International
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In recent years, Sweden has seen a rise in drowning accidents, which has been ascribed to the influx of migrants, many of whom cannot swim at all. To address this problem, a nationwide project is being launched.

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According to statistics from the Swedish Lifeguard Society, drowning accidents in Sweden have increased "markedly" in the country, indicating an increase of 25 percent in recent years. This has been at least partially attributed to the deficient swimming competence among Sweden's recent crop of migrants.

Swimming skills among the new arrivals are often rather low, as is the interest in learning to swim, Swedish national broadcaster SVT reported. Last year, Örnsköldsvik Municipality started offering swimming lessons for the new arrivals. However, the public showed a tepid interest, and only foreign-born men appeared due to cultural and gender barriers.

"We cannot mix with others if we do not have full clothing, and there is no full swimwear available here. We want either to swim with women only or in comprehensive clothes," Badria Othman from Ethiopia told SVT.

To address this problem, the Swedish Lifeguard Society is launching a three-year project in which the new arrivals will be trained in swimming and water safety. The project is funded by the Swedish Inheritance Fund.

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"We will try and reach as many asylum homes as possible to educate the newcomers in water security," Swedish Lifeguard Society project manager Camilla Hansen told Swedish Radio.

Another major feature of the project is that 36 immigrants from around the country will be trained as instructors, effectively forming a pool of coaches for other municipalities to use.

Sikandar Rezai was educated as a swimming teacher last summer in a similar-minded project the Swedish Lifeguard Society implemented on a smaller scale. By his own admission, he decided to learn swimming during his trip across the Mediterranean Sea between Turkey and Greece.

"It was then I understood how important it was to know how to swim," Sikandar Rezai told Swedish Radio.

This summer, Rezai is teaching swimming to unaccompanied refugee children in the town of Borås.

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The Swedish Lifeguard Society hopes that their projects will lay the foundation for long-term work around the country by continuously ensuring that new arrivals learn to swim. According to Camilla Hansen, the number of reported cases where lifeguards jump into swimming pools to save the new arrivals is high.

Earlier this year, Sweden, which took the most refugees per capita of all the European nations at the height of the migrant crisis in 2015, was ranked the world's best country for immigrants, ahead of Canada, Switzerland and fellow Nordic nations.

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