From the boiling heat of Eritrea to the snow-covered streets of Sweden, Jemal Ali’s refugee story is one of survival, hope, learning, and paying it forward. 

Since 2021, Jemal has used his life experiences to serve as a cross-cultural facilitator in the International Organization for Migration (IOM) Pre-Departure Orientation programme in Sweden, which equips Sweden-bound quota refugees with the knowledge and skills they need to navigate their new lives in Sweden.

"Having a migrant background gives me a unique perspective," says Jemal. "I understand the challenges of the integration process and I have my own experience to share. I can quickly establish trust with refugees, as they know I've faced similar difficulties, and, when I speak their native language, this makes communication very smooth."

Jemal can relate to the feelings, concerns, and hopes that refugees have before moving to another country. 

"I left my home in Massawa, Eritrea, in 2015 and made my way to Sweden as an asylum seeker," Jemal recounts. "The hardest part of the journey was crossing the Sahara. It was very risky, and smugglers had complete power over our lives. I was fortunate to make it to Europe at last."

For Jemal, integrating into Swedish society came with challenges, same as for many of the refugees he guides at the beginning of their resettlement journeys. The language barrier and cultural differences were significant hurdles, but Jemal faced them head-on.

"Learning the language was not always easy at the beginning,” Jemal recalls. “And neither was dealing with the weather,” he adds with a smile. “But I was determined to work through the challenges. As soon as I learned the language, things improved."

"My desire to help others motivated me to become a cross-cultural facilitator," he says. "I wanted to support those facing the same challenges that I did. This role gives me the chance to keep doing what I was doing almost every day in my role as a teacher - help guide refugees and support them in their integration process."

The Pre-Departure Orientation sessions cover a wide range of topics relevant to resettlement. "We use a learner-centered approach, the sessions are interactive and full of activities and discussions," Jemal explains. 

"Our goal is to help refugees understand Swedish culture, values, norms, welfare, public transportation, and the challenges and opportunities they might encounter. This helps them resettle more easily. The relationships I form with them and the changes I see in their feelings and worries before and after our sessions is what inspires me to keep going."

Jemal is happy living in Sweden with his wife and four sons. Besides his work with IOM, he teaches at a secondary school, where he supports young newcomers to Sweden who want to finish their elementary level education. He plans to become a career counsellor.

Through his dedicated work as a cross-cultural facilitator and his commitment to sharing his knowledge, Jemal continues to empower refugees, helping them build new lives, seize opportunities, and move closer to achieving their dreams.


The Swedish Pre-Departure Orientation curriculum is designed by the Swedish Migration Agency to be carried out by cross-cultural facilitators who have personal experience of integration in Sweden, often on both a personal and professional level, and who can provide training in the participants’ native language. This approach ensures that participants receive training from someone who truly understands their journey.