lördag 11 juli 2020

Sweden: The situation of refugees of Afghan origin

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”. 

New organisations popped up, working for the rights of refugees, adding to the organisations that already existed. Two organisations address those who risk deportation to Afghanistan.

The Facebook-based network Stoppa utvisningarna till Afghanistan! (Stop deportations to Afghanistan!) was founded as an appeal and a facebookgroup in 2016 to raise opinion and influence politics. As thousands of “unaccompanied” were admitted as members of the facebook group, a supporting function was added. Today, the group has 21,500 members, of whom one third are youngsters. The website has developed and contains facts and information as well as a variety of blog texts. Press releases and Twitter are used for spreading information.
Contact: Ingrid Eckerman ingrid.eckerman@gmail.com, +46 70 557 31 93

During 2017, it was obvious that the situation for the youngsters was becoming acute as they lost shelter and economic allowance. Members of the network founded the registered organisation Stöttepelaren (The support pillar) to collect and distribute economic support in a safe and transparent way. During the two first two years of operation, more than 2 million SEK were collected and distributed via 20 local groups. It is mainly used for food, sometimes for medicines, winter shoes or a night at a hostel. The local groups work in networks together with the churches and their aid organisations, the Red Cross and Save the children.
Contact: Karin Fridell Anter ordforande@stottepelaren.se, +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.

In 2017, the first of many books, written in Swedish by “unaccompanied”, was published: Ängeln och sparven (The angel and the sparrow) by Ali Zardadi. It has been presented at many libraries in Sweden.

Ensamkommandes röster (Voices of the Unaccompanied) was a group of girls and boys travelling around the country, lecturing about the rights of women and girls and giving support to the rather few unaccompanied girls in Sweden.

In August 2017, a young girl Fatemeh Khavari gathered some of her friends to a sit strike outside the House of Parliament. They adopted the name Ung i Sverige (Young in Sweden). This grew to a two months long manifestation with hundreds of young people gathering at the stairs of Medborgarplatsen in Stockholm, supported by Swedish “helpers”. They attracted the media, and since then, every Swede knows about this group of refugees.

Ung i Sverige, as well as Ensamkommandes förbund (the Association of Unaccompanied) that was founded in 2012, have emerged as important partners for organisations and refugee projects.

Since 2016, the Raoul Wallenberg Academy has every year given the award Ungt kurage (Young courage) to at least one unaccompanied, sometimes paperless.

When the families dropped down for a sit strike on Norra Bantorget in July 2019, the support came from Ung i Sverige and Ensamkommandes förbund. The families formed the network Liv utan gränser (Life without borders).

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