In 2015 kwamen 35.000 alleenstaande minderjarigen vreemdelingen naar Zweden. Volgens de Zweedse wet vallen zij direct toe aan de gemeente. Carina Nilsson vertelt wat dit betekende voor haar als verantwoordelijk wethouder in Malmö.

Carina Nilsson
Gemeentelijk Commissaris van Sociale Zaken en Zorg, namens de Zweedse Sociaaldemocaten
27 februari 2016


Harbour of Help

‘Sweden and especially Malmö have a long history of welcoming refugees. Before and during World War II many refugees from Denmark and Germany came to Sweden through Malmö. Malmö was a harbour of help where Jewish people could begin a new life and many children suffering during the war came by ferry to live a normal life in peace. Then in the 1990’s, during the conflict in the Balkan, many refugees from former Yugoslavia came to Sweden and many settled in Malmö.

The geographical location of Malmö means that when people want to go to Sweden they almost always have to go through our city. Malmö receives most of the immigrants coming to Sweden and we try to welcome them. We want these people to use their talents and skills and help make their lives here possible.’

‘How are you?’

‘Refugees arrived at Hyllie Station or Malmö Central Station. There were many volunteers at the stations to help them. They played a very important role in the reception of refugees and were often the first people the refugees would meet on their long journey who would ask: “How are you?” It often happened that refugees would break down and everything would come out.’

It used to be the station guards who would find the unaccompanied minors and then call us, the local authorities, so we could come by and pick them up. There are also children who have disappeared. Most of them have places they want to go to, family or friends. Some want to go to Norway or Finland, but what they don’t want is to stay in Malmö.

But we didn’t know for sure if the children found someone they know or were taken by someone who wanted bad things. So we started to organize the reception and send social workers to the stations who could find the unaccompanied minors and pick them up.

After the summer this system didn’t work anymore, because of the growing numbers that were arriving every day. In the beginning of September a reception complex was build outside of the central train station. All refugees could come there and rest after their long journey.

The Red Cross and the Migration Agency and also the police were there. Some refugees were afraid to come because they saw the police, but after a while they knew it was a safe place for them to go. There was also a playroom with toys for children and a first aid centre for medical support.'

Crisis level

'The city decided to go into crisis level in October because of the daily number of refugees. We had to build up camps for the unaccompanied minors, because we had no accommodation for them anymore. Adults and families go to asylum centres, but unaccompanied minors are allocated to separate housing. So sports buildings and other big buildings were set up with matrasses on the floor and sanitary facilities.

This way the children at least had a place to rest, sleep and eat some food. Of course this wasn’t a very good situation, but it was needed. Some days we had 2000 minors sleeping in emergency locations in Malmö and all of them needed a matrass, breakfast and lunch and so on. We also reserved all available social apartments for unaccompanied minors.

We had to build up big organization quickly, we employed 1800 people to handle the situation. The food had to be prepared and there had to be people at every location. On top of that there has to be one social worker or guardian per 10 children. This is of course also a good thing. There is high unemployment in Malmö and this meant that 1800 people got work, although we did need people without all the right competences.

The government pays for all the extra costs made to deal with the current situation. The municipal government does not have to pay for it in theory. We believe we should receive money from the government because it is not right if the citizens of Malmö have to pay for it all. Our prime minister visited Malmö to assess the situation. After this we were given 380 million Swedish Krona (41,5 million euro) for both 2015 and 2016.'

Afghan boys

'In 2006 only 156 unaccompanied children came to Malmö, which is not a high number. Then more and more unaccompanied children started to come to Malmö and in 2010 we received over a 1000. In the spring of 2015 we had about 40 a week already, in the summer about 40 a day and then in the autumn we received 300 a day during one month.

In total over 35.000 unaccompanied minors came to Sweden in 2015 and over 14.000 were staying in Malmö. The new border control and the winter has decreased the number of refugees and unaccompanied minors a lot. They won’t come anymore, especially because most of the Afghan boys from Iran don’t have identification. Now we only receive about 5 a week or even less.

Most of the unaccompanied minors we receive are not from Syria, they are Afghan. They are Afghan boys who used to live in refugee camps in Iran. Some of them have never lived in Afghanistan, but were born and raised in Iran. They never got the Iranian nationality though and also often without identification.

When they are about 16-17 years old, the Iranian army wants to recruit them to fight for the them in the war. So their families want them to leave Iran and find a safe place. The problem is determining who is underage. You must be under 18 to be considered an unaccompanied minor.

Of about one third of the applicants who say they are underage, the Migration Agency will immediately be able to say, you are older. But sometimes you cannot know or check their age, sometimes they don’t know their exact age. So we accept those of whom we cannot prove that they are not underage.’


‘When unaccompanied minors arrive in Malmö they are registered by the Migration Agency, but they are our responsibility. The Migration Agency is responsible for everyone, except unaccompanied minors. So when an unescorted minor arrives here, he automatically becomes our responsibility and is taken out of the general system of the Migration Agency.

The reason for separating the unaccompanied minors is quite simple, because it is the Swedish law. When a minor, any minor, is unaccompanied, the municipality becomes responsible. This is not just the case for migrants, but also for Swedish children without parents or guardians. That these children are migrants is of no importance to the rules.

Because I am the Municipal Commissioner of Welfare and Care they fall under my responsibilities. Only after two years does the responsibility for the adults also become the municipality’s responsibility. All unaccompanied minors, regardless of nationality, are the municipalities’ responsibility.

So every municipality has a system set up for unaccompanied minors and people responsible for taking care of unaccompanied minors and who have the knowledge. It is only now that there are so many from outside of Sweden, but this does not change our laws.

We have special programs for unaccompanied minors. The minors live in special homes if there are no relatives in Sweden. They live together with about 20 minors and each has their own room, while some can live in semi-independent apartments. They have to go to school and finish their education. There is always someone present at the house, even overnight. They also all have a legal guardian and there is about one staff member for each two unaccompanied minors.

When the unaccompanied minors turn 18 they are not treated as unaccompanied minors anymore of course. They have to move out of the house for minors, they are then their own legal representative. But if they are still finishing their education we still support them. We also put all the children on a housing waiting list when they arrive. So that when they are 18 years old they can get their own little apartment. We do not want them to end up on the street.'


'Family reunification is not always the best thing for unaccompanied minors. Of course these children want to be with their families, but it is not unproblematic. The child has grown up in Sweden for a few years, was part of Swedish society and went to Swedish schools. They should be starting their lives. But then after 2-3 years their family comes here and it causes problems.

We are no longer responsible for them because they are not unaccompanied anymore. So the family becomes responsible for their accommodation and their education. But a family who just arrived here has no money, nowhere to live. And Sweden does not have enough housing for all the refugees right now. So the child might go from our home to homeless and being the responsible one in his family.

All municipalities in Sweden are affected by this amount of refugees. Malmö cannot keep all these children, so Malmö is a transit place. Normally the children leave after a few days when they have been allocated to a municipality by the Migration Agency. However in the autumn the Migration Agency couldn’t handle the amount of refugees and therefore some children were here for weeks or months before they were allocated a new home.


Lastly, we need to be able to educate all these children. Our law says that all municipalities need to accept a certain amount of unaccompanied minors and adults. If this law wasn’t in place I think we would have a very bad situation in Malmö because then many children would stay.

We already have the plan to build 26 new schools, both primary and secondary, to keep up with the increase of children in the city. But we also need teachers for all these new schools and Sweden already has a shortage. So if there are educated people coming to Sweden, we should let them work as soon as they are ready.'

Gesprek gevoerd op 27 februari 2016.
Foto: Werry Crone