By Karin Fridell Anter and Ingrid Eckerman, July 2020
The refugee crisis in 2015
During 2015, Sweden received 165,000 refugees, an extremely high number for a small country with 10 million inhabitants. The Swedish government was terrified of the influx and closed the borders in January 2016. In July 2016, a new “temporary refugee law” was introduced, applied retroactively from November 2015. The goal was to make it possible to reject about half of the asylum seekers.
Two big groups were the refugees from Syria and from Afghanistan. The Swedish Migration Agency decided to handle the refugees from Syria first, as their cases were regarded as simple.
Of the group with Afghan citizenship, unaccompanied minors were a big group of 23,500. For those, the asylum process started late and ended late. In 2017, a new, non-validated, method for medical age determination was introduced, that arbitrarily raised the age of many youngsters so that they could be judged and expelled as adults.
Around 5,500 of the children got permanent residency. Another 1,000 were given temporary permits until they get 18 years. A new law, introduced in 2018, allowed around 7,000 young people a temporary residence permit for studies as they fulfilled the strict rules of arrival date and other formalities.
This leaves nearly 10,000 “unaccompanied” with rejected asylum applications. There has been heavy criticism against lack of justice in the asylum process that lead to this result, and also against the medical age determinations.
Even those youngsters who were included in the law for studies now face a severe risk of expulsion, as the corona crisis makes it impossible to get the long-term employments required for prolonged permits. To this are added around 2,000 “family children”, together with their parents.
No voluntary returns
This does not mean that 10,000 young refugees are actually “returning” to Afghanistan. For many of them, the prospect of going to Afghanistan is so frightening that they prefer to live as paperless and homeless in Sweden. Others have fled to other European countries that have a more realistic view on the “safety” of Afghanistan.
Since 2015, the number of voluntary returns to Afghanistan has gone down from few to nearly zero. A forced deportation is a complicated and expensive story, with possibilities of new appeals in court. The capacity of the detention system is limited. The amount of forced deportations to Afghanistan is growing slowly, but was only around 500 in 2019. Because of the corona pandemic, Afghanistan has stopped accepting forced deportees from Europe. To deport the Afghan citizens from Sweden with this speed would take more than 20 years.
During the many years in Sweden, many of the “unaccompanied” have developed social networks with Swedes and other fellow citizens. Many of the paperless youngsters stay in the homes of Swedes, or they move from one friend to another. Some of them manage to continue school. Of course, the tension is strong, and some cannot cope with this situation. At least 28 young people have killed themselves, and too many have got into drugs and prostitution.
Poor motivation to return
Most of those who now live under the threat of deportation are young men who were children when they came to Sweden. There are also girls in a similar situation. They have become part of the Swedish society, many of them with people who see them as family members. In Afghanistan they have nothing. About half of them have no family or network there, as they have grown up as refugees in mainly Iran. For others, the family in Afghanistan represents the very threat that they fled from: the risk of being forcefully married, or even killed because they have refused to obey family rules.
During their time in Sweden, many have abandoned their traditional religion, converted to Christianity or become open atheist. Others have come out as LGBTQ persons, girls have had relations with boys and young women have met men without a veil or scarf. All this means that a “return” to Afghanistan would be dangerous.
Families with children
There are also families with small children, who might even be born in Sweden, couples who have escaped their families to be able to live together, and women who have run away from men that they have been forced to marry. Afghanistan does not accept forced deportations of families with children. Sweden does not allow them to work, but forces them to move between different parts of the country and provides them with only minimum money. They are kept in a limbo, to induce them to return “voluntarily”.
Contact: Ingrid Eckerman firstname.lastname@example.org, +46 70 557 31 93
Contact: Karin Fridell Anter email@example.com, +46 70 769 40 17
Both organisations have participated in different manifestations organised by other organisations. Leading members of the network have initiated Flyktingarnas dag (the Refugees’ day) in November 2018, the international conference How safe is Afghanistan? in October 2019 and the digital march För en mänsklig flyktingpolitik 2020! (For a human refugee politics 2020!) that started on May 1, 2020.
Refugees taking action
The facebook group made it possible for youngsters to meet each other as well as Swedes. In a way, the group has been a school of democracy. For some, it also gave a possibility to publish poems and other texts about their feelings. Many "unaccompanied have testified about the importance of the group.