Twelve-year-old Georgi had been sleeping for nearly a year. He had lost consciousness shortly after his family found out they would be kicked out of Sweden.
Georgi and his family are refugees. Seven years before, they escaped religious persecution in their home country. They had made a new home in Sweden. Although Sweden is one of Europe’s most welcoming countries for refugees, it has become stricter.
When the official-looking letter arrived from the government, Georgi’s parents couldn’t read Swedish, so Georgi read it out loud to his entire family. The letter said that the family would be deported.
That’s when things took a turn for the worse.
Georgi dropped the letter on the floor and went to bed. He would remain in a mysterious deep sleep for nearly a year. His family tried everything to wake him. And his friends and teacher visited him daily and wrote him letters. Nothing worked.
Georgi wasn’t alone, and he wasn’t faking it. He was wasting away. Like many other refugee children facing deportation, a feeding tube was inserted down his throat to keep him alive.
In Sweden, in the early 2000s, many children whose families were being deported began to fall into a deep sleep. By 2005, more than 400 children were affected, remaining in bed, sometimes for years. Since then, many more have suffered, including Georgi.
Georgi’s doctor said, “I think it is a form of protection, this coma they are in…They are like Snow White. They just fall away from the world.”
When the government heard about Georgi’s condition from his doctor, they allowed the family to stay put in Sweden.
Within two weeks of hearing the good news, Georgi began to wake up. Though his recovery was arduous, he slowly learned to open his eyes, walk and talk. Within a few months, he was strong enough to start school again.
Georgi says he was completely unaware of the outside world during his months in bed. He describes feeling as if he were in a glass box deep in the ocean. He said he had to remain still and silent or the glass would break causing the water to rush in and kill him. He says, “Now I understand that it wasn’t real at all. But, at that time, it was very difficult, because every move could kill you. I was living there.”
Doctors remain baffled by the hundreds of sleeping refugee children that have only been found in Sweden. So far, the only theory is that the children are so afraid to return to their home country, and they feel so helpless, that they give up hope. Basically, they lose the will to live. And the only cure is being allowed to stay.