De onverwacht grote toestroom van vluchtelingen in het najaar van 2015 dwong de Zweedse sociaaldemocratische regeringspartij tot het nemen van ongemakkelijke beslissingen. Rijksdaglid Kerstin Nilsson licht de maatregelen toe.

Kerstin Nilsson
Lid van de Rijksdag, het Zweedse parlement, voor de sociaaldemocraten
27 februari 2016



‘In August 2015 there was no indication that the that the number of asylum seekers would increase so rapidly in September and October. It was at some point over 10.000 in one week. It only decreased when we started with the identification controls. We can take a few thousand a week, but not that much.

Sweden is only 2% of the European population, but we received about 16% of the refugees. It became too difficult to keep up the work.  Then we also had a large number of unaccompanied minors seeking asylum. Last year a total 35.000 came of which 25.000 Afghans from Iran. This is a record number of unaccompanied minors and 99% of them were boys.  More than 25% of the unaccompanied minors in Europe came to Sweden.

The biggest problem with the unaccompanied minors is that we can’t always see if they are actually minors or not. Often these boys don’t have any identification and how can you see who’s 17 and who’s 18? The problem is that they often even don’t know themselves.

Because they come from refugee camps in Iran, they have never been registered and sometimes the parents at home just tell them they might be younger. It´s because that they are afraid that the boys will be taken to be soldiers in the Iran army.

If they are minors they receive a different treatment than adults. But if they are adults, they can’t live in a special house for unaccompanied minors or receive the same support. They will be treated as adults.

There is a test if it is not clear if someone is an minor, but this test doesn’t give a 100% guarantee. So there is a discussion on how you can tell if someone is a child or an adult and on how trustworthy this test is. A lot of doctors don’t want to use the test because it’s not a hundred percent right and therefore not safe.

But we might have to use it, we will have to decide. At the moment it’s only voluntary. And a lot of the minors are already adults when the final decision is made. What to do then? But until they are adults we have to take care of them.’

Cross-party agreement

‘In October last year the government and the centre right parties reached an cross-party agreement on immigration and integration policies. The proposal of the agreement was to consolidate the Swedish asylum system. The agreement contains 21 points and would be temporarily in force.

Important was the decision to introduce temporary residence permits as the main rule for a temporary three year period. However, permanent residence permits will continue to be the main rule for quota refugees, unaccompanied minors and families with children.

If a person who’s temporary residence permit has expired can show a taxable income above the minimum level, the person will be granted a permanent residence status even if the reason for protection no longer exists after three years.

If you do not have that income, but the reason for protection does still exist then the temporary residence permit should also become permanent. So, if the Syrians are able to go back in three years, they will have to. We can also extend the temporary residence permit.

The parliament might want a temporary law in three years. Right now, after three years your permit automatically goes away if we don’t decide something else, so then the old laws will apply again. We also have to take it one year at a time. If we again have the amount of people like last year, we might need to extend the temporary residency.

The right to family reunification will be limited to those who have temporary residence permits. Person granted subsidiary protection status will have not have the right to family reunification during this three year period. Because when refugees come to Sweden alone and they want their family to come later, this means that another three or four people will come. This is just too much.

Also higher maintenance requirements to qualify for family reunification have been introduced. Family reunification will only be possible if the person already living in Sweden can support his or her family members and has a home of sufficient size and standard.’

Accommodation regulation

‘Another point of the cross-party agreement was shortening the process time for an asylum application. It is the migration agency (Migrationsverket – red.) which has been tasked with making a plan for this. Now this process takes one to one and a half years depending on the kind of permit you are seeking.

A third item in the agreement is that the right to a daily allowance for adults without children will be removed when a decision on rejection, or expulsion, has gained legal force and the time limit for leaving the country has expired. Nor will they have the right to remain in the accommodation provided by the migration agency after that. This was necessary to provide more places in the asylum centres.

They will have to stay with family or friends, or live on the street, it is impossible to say. But they are not allowed to stay in the asylum centres anymore because they will be in Sweden illegally after they have been rejected. Right now we have 60.000 in Sweden who are not allowed to stay, but their  country of origin doesn’t care. They say the people are not from their country. So it is very difficult.

Burden sharing

Another important part was to provide more places for asylum seekers in accommodation centres. The agreement addresses different options for municipalities to cope with accommodating all accepted refugees. This includes temporary relaxing of planning and building regulations so that municipalities can build housing quicker. Still, certain conditions have to be met of course.

Also the migration agency can sign long-term contracts to lease in municipalities to house the refugees. What is important is that all municipalities must work together. The refugees have to be housed all over the country. All of the Swedish community has to share this responsibility together, not just Malmö, Stockholm or other cities.

One item in the agreement says Sweden will receive more quota refugees. Because when we receive quota refugees we have a plan set. When they come, we are organized to receive them, we have a plan with housing and support.

Which quota refugee comes to Sweden is not decided by us, its decided by the UNHCR. We tell them how many we can accept and they choose who comes here. How many will be accepted is not clear yet. Because we simply don’t know how many refugees will come to Sweden this year. If it’s around 50.000 to 70.000 we can manage, if it is going to be as high as 100.000 is will be difficult for us.

So we don’t have a number for quota refugees. It was also decided to introduce identification checks at the border. So on all public transportation to Sweden identification checks have to carried out. On the ferries, the trains and the busses across the bridge to Malmö.’

Difficult decision

‘It was simply too much for us. We have traditionally welcomed refugees from all over the world. Except in 1992 when many people from former Yugoslavia came here, the number of asylum applicants has never exceeded 40.000 until the last few years. Now in the largest refugee increase since the Second World War, we have taken up a great responsibility for these refugees like many other countries in the west.

Although we are a small country in number of citizens, we are making an enormous contribution and the Swedish people are showing great solidarity in this difficult time. The Swedish legislation will be temporarily adjusted to the minimum requirements under the international convention to EU law. The temporary rules apply to all asylum applications that are being decided on during the period of the cross-party agreement being in force.

It is the most difficult decision on migration the Swedish government has taken so far. To defend and save the Swedish asylum system we must temporary restrict the service. But otherwise letting the system fall apart is not an option. So as social democrats, what we wish in our heart is not always possible in reality.’

Gesprek gevoerd op 27 februari 2016.
Foto: Werry Crone