How To Support a Book Drive for Syrian Refugees in Sweden

People want to do “something” to show solidarity and support for Syrian refugees, Mary Ellen Foley wrote in an email. But often they don’t know what:

shirt“Books may seem a small thing,” wrote Foley, who is helping to organize a campaign to ship Arabic books to refugees in Sweden, “but being stuck in a camp, waiting for months for the government to decide whether you can stay permanently, and moving to wherever they need to put you whenever they need to move you, is soul-destroying.”

Foley, a dual US/UK citizen who spends a good part of the year in Sweden, said she started the project after she ran into some Syrians “in the public library’s cafe, and when I found that they had been looking for books and hadn’t found anything in the library, I felt the situation could so easily be improved, that I had to do something.”

Foley continued:

One of them spoke about her love of books, about growing up with her father’s library and now having no books, and I thought it ought to be possible to find something. I know — it’s a firm fact — that people want to do something to help; they just don’t know what to do. This isn’t much. Having spoken at greater length to these refugees, I realize that the true needs are in Syria, to improve the conditions of the people they left behind. But this is what I can do.

Public library branches are organizing the donations as they come in, with the assistance of refugees. The project has financial backing — through June 15 — from the Dubai-based T-shirt company LeapTee, an effort spearheaded by the company’s Michael Ellis Taylor.

LeapTee is collecting new and used books in Dubai. They’re also using profits from the sale of refugee-supporting t-shirts, seen above, to fund the shipments to Sweden.

What sorts of books? Foley quoted a refugee she met named Israa who was hoping for some Agatha Christie translations, adding that, “General fiction and nonfiction for adults seems to be the greatest need.” Also: “When the need is so great, anything will help, and when the dust settles after this first book drive, perhaps we’ll know more.”

Although Foley said all gently used books are welcome, new books can also be bought from sites like or and shipped.

There’s little chance there will be too many of them. Finnish was, for centuries, the second-most-spoken language in Sweden. Although country-wide statistics aren’t kept, now Arabic certainly seems to be overtaking it. Foley is focused on the libraries around refugee centers on Gotland. Once these have enough books, Foley said, then she’ll reach out to other librarians across the country.

Foley noted that materials sent expressly to convert refugees are not appropriate to this project.

If you want to send Arabic books:

In the United States: Ship them here: LeapTee P.O. Box 131131 Houston, Texas 77219

In the United Arab Emirates: Ship them here: P. O. Box 106652 Madinet Zayed Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

In Sweden: Almedalsbiblioteket (The Almedalen Library) c/o Linda Wagenius Box 1121 621 22 VISBY Sweden

If you want to buy a t-shirt:

Visit the BookDrive website 


  1. صباح الخير يا مرسيا العزيزة
    I imagine if one is in Western Europe one ought to send books directly to the address in Sweden ?
    And that children’s books in Arabic would also be welcome.
    What about books in English? Just about all of the Syrians I know have got either some English or French.

    مع صداقتي

    Date: Sat, 14 May 2016 03:55:34 +0000

  2. Many thanks for your interest! Children’s books are welcome as well, though there are relatively few children in the Syrian refugee population near Visby, as far as I have been able to determine.

    As for English books, the public library has a wonderful collection of those already! When I go up to Visby to work (three times a year, about 5 weeks each time), I don’t have to pack any books — I’ll never read my way through what they’ve got there. They have French books as well, though I don’t know how many; I’ve never sought out French books, since I don’t read the language. You can check the library’s catalog online if you like ( Our collections of books in the US and in Dubai is Arabic-only.

    You’re welcome to send books directly to the library in Visby. A volunteer from among the Syrians there is helping the librarians (who obviously can’t even read the titles) sort through the donated books and catalogue them, though our first volunteer has been shifted by the government to refugee housing across the island, and I’m looking into funding for her bus tickets!

    Thanks very much — and I’d be tremendously grateful if those who can would republish the link anywhere that’s appropriate.

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