|Unknown artist. Taken from the facebook group Stoppa utvisningarna till Afghanistan!|
decisions on asylum applications
from Afghan citizens scrutinized
June 9, 2023
Ingrid Eckerman, founder of the network Stoppa utvisningarna
till Afghanistan! (Stop deportations to
Karin Fridell Anter, president of Stöttepelaren (the Supporting pillar)
Table of contents
New situation after the summer 2021
Assessing risks for returnees
Review of cases
The adult man
The young men
Appendix: Basis for assessment of protection reasons vis-à-vis Afghanistan
European convention on Human Rights
Governing legal document from Swedish Migration Agency
EUAA Report "Country guidance: Afghanistan January 2023"
Since the Taliban’s taking over Afghanistan in August 2021, many other European countries have stopped deportations to Afghanistan and instead given the asylum applicants residence permit. However, in Sweden, more than 50 % of asylum applications from male Afghan citizens are rejected, although the refugees cannot be deported.
In order to understand the motivations given by the Swedish authorities, we have reviewed 20 rejection decisions. We also studied the EUAA land report from January 2023, which present a number of risk profiles that may come into question for being granted refugee status.
We found that terms
like vague, general, without deep reflections, missing details are present in
all the 20 verdicts. EUAA stresses that the risks for an individual are
amplified if the person belongs to several risk profiles, but the Migration Agency
also demands individual refugee grounds. It is clear that the Migration Agency
interprets the indications in the EUAA report as narrowly as possible, and does
not include all paragraphs in their assessments. In several cases, there is no
account taken to the situation of today in Afghanistan, and no “forward-looking
assessment” is done.
In 2015, 41,600 persons with Afghan citizenship applied for asylum in Sweden. Of these, 23,000 were registered as unaccompanied minors (UAM). Around 6,000 of the UAMs received permanent residence permits according to the laws that were in force when they arrived. 17,000 were instead tried according to the new law from July 20, 2016, which gave stricter conditions for asylum and was applied with retroactive effect. The majority of the young Afghans either turned 18 before their cases were tried, or had their formal age raised to 18 to deny them of the relative advantages stipulated for children. Only a small minority of them were allowed residence permits.
About 3,000 of those who were too young to have their age changed and be tried as adults got temporary residence permits, for an unknown number with the condition that they were to be expelled when they turned 18.
In 2018, a new law (the “gymnasium law”) was introduced, giving possibilities to around 8,000 teenagers, most of them Afghan, to get permanent residence permits if they study upper secondary school (“gymnasium”) and within six months from exam get a permanent employment. It looks like around 5,000 will succeed with this.
Still about 7,000 - 8,000
of the young Afghans from 2015 have not got residence permits in Sweden. At least 5,000 have left for other European
countries, mainly France, where they usually receive residence permits. A few hundreds
have been deported to Afghanistan during 2016 - 2019. The rest are still in
Sweden, most often in a “paperless” situation with no right to work and no
Since the Covid-19 breakout in early 2020 forced deportations to Afghanistan were in practice stopped. After the Taliban took over in August 2021 the previous agreement on returning and readmission of Afghan citizens is no longer valid. Between August 2021 and February 2022 no negative asylum decisions regarding Afghans were taken by Swedish authorities. Since then such decisions are again taken but cannot be implemented. In December 2022 the Swedish Migration Agency decided to grant all Afghan women asylum and refugee status.
Many Afghans in Sweden have now applied for asylum a second time, as the earlier negative decisions are time-barred after four years. But the new hope involved in this has been turned into disappointment. According to figures from the Migration Agency, 40 % of the cases were rejected during 2022. For men, it was over 50 %. This has led to a very difficult situation specially for young persons, who spent many years in Sweden. Since new year 2023, we have three completed suicides and several serious attempts.
During 2022-2023 it is estimated that several hundred Afghan citizens applied for asylum based on sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. There are no official statistics on this. Asylum lawyer Aino Gröndahl at RFSL (The Swedish Federation for LGBTQI rights) studied 1 360 asylum decisions in SOGIESC asylum cases from different countries, between 2020 and 2023, among which many cases were from Afghanistan. The vast majority were denied asylum in Sweden, and all those that were rejected were based on credibility; that the Migration Agency or the Migration Court did not assess the claimed sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression to be credible.
Several men who have
married Swedish women, with whom they have children, are rejected residence
permit. At least one is taken to custody, although he cannot be deported.
The governing legal document (”rättsligt ställningstagande”) of the Migration Agency from January 24, 2023 refers to ”Country guidance: Afghanistan January 2023” from EUAA. In this report, risk analyses are made for individuals belonging to different risk profiles, including individuals considered to have committed blasphemy and/or apostasy; individuals perceived to have transgressed religious, moral and/or societal norms; individuals perceived as ‘Westernised’; individuals of Hazara ethnicity and other Shias; LGBTIQ persons; individuals involved in blood feuds and land disputes; persons living with disabilities and persons with severe medical issues. EUAA stresses that one individual often belongs to several risk profiles, which amplifies the risks. Excerpts: see appendix.
Crucial words in the EUAA document are “considered” and “perceived”, which refer to the considerations and perceptions of people and authorities in Afghanistan, not to those of Swedish migration officials. An assessment of the risks for returnees should start from what the returnee would meet in Afghanistan and how he or she would be regarded and treated there. This is independent of how the Swedish officials understands such as the confirmed identity of a person or the genuineness of his/her religious or other convictions. The Migrations Agency is obliged to make a “forward looking assessment”, and thus needs to review the case from the viewpoint of Taliban and the civil society. In today’s Afghanistan, it might be enough that someone believes that a person is apostate/LGBTQI/Westernised to start a process that leads to persecution and even death. This is recognized by the Migration Agency in the governing legal document about religion 2021.
This is also recognized in the rejection decision from February 2022 regarding one of the Afghan asylum seekers presented below: “Returnees from Western countries with Westernized valuations might be met by suspicion and stigmatization. There is a low tolerance for criticism of Islam in the society and the Taliban movement. The risk for sanctions is connected to whether the criticism becomes publicly known.”
From another case it
is clear that the Agency avoids making a “forward looking assessment”: “The
Migration Agency assesses that the development of the security situation in
Afghanistan is uncertain and can be rapidly changing. … At the moment, it
cannot be considered that indiscriminate violence of such nature and intensity
in any province is prevailing, that every and one, by mere presence, risks
being exposed to a treatment that is ground for protection.”
In order to understand the motivations given by the Swedish authorities when rejecting asylum for Afghan citizens we have reviewed 19 rejection decisions from the Migration Agency plus one from the migration court. The decisions derive from March 2022 to May 2023. One of them concerned a family, one concerned a single adult man and the rest concerned young men who were underaged when they arrived in Sweden in 2015.
Case no. 7 is a family of two adults and three children below six. They are Hazara and the father is atheist. They have described threats in Afghanistan from Taliban and others, but the Migration Agency doesn’t believe them. They find the father’s story about his atheism sweeping, concise, general, lacking reflections.
Case no. 3 is a man 30+. He has married a Swedish woman and they have children together. Because of his job in Afghanistan, he maintains that he risks persecution. Already in Afghanistan, he was a “secular Muslim” and did not follow the rituals. He regards himself as “Westernised”. The Migration Agency is of the opinion that as he had no troubles about being secular in Kabul earlier, he will be able to readjust to the Muslim way of living in Afghanistan. They do not comment the fact that Muslim rules are practiced much stricter now than before the Taliban takeover and that the risks for non-conformists are much stronger.
Eighteen cases regard young men with registered birthyears 1997 – 2002 who arrived in Sweden in 2015. Fifteen of them are Hazara. Many of them describe threats from relatives and neighbours. Four are Christian, ten are atheists. Fifteen were considered adults at the time when the Migration Agency gave their first rejection, four or more years ago. Most of them are now working or studying, often living in Swedish families. At least one is married in Sweden. The young men have lived one third or more of their lives in Sweden, and all consider themselves as “Westernized”.
In the verdicts from the Migration Agency we find the same arguments repeated:
- There is no land information that returnees will be persecuted. Expressed in another way: “The Migration Agency notes that the information about the Taliban's actions concerning returnees from Western countries is unclear.”
- You belong to the risk profiles with increased risk for persecution when returning to Afghanistan. Except for this, you have not given information enough that your individual circumstances will lead to persecution.
- As you were not persecuted as a child in Afghanistan because of …, then you will not be persecuted as an adult man in Taliban’s Afghanistan.
- You have spent most of your life in Afghanistan.
- Your connection to Afghanistan is stronger than your connection to Sweden.
- You have said that you have no connections in Afghanistan, but we consider that you have a network of relatives in Afghanistan.
- Your information about your religion/Westernization/sexuality is vague, general, without deep reflections. This is standard text, in all rejection cases.
- You are an adult able-bodied man and should therefore be able to support yourself in Afghanistan.
- It is up to you to readjust to the customs and traditions of your homeland.
Case no. 4 is a young man who needs lifelong treatment with a common, non-expensive medicine. Without this medicine, he will go into a life-threatening condition. The dosage of the medicine is adjusted yearly after lab tests. The Migration Agency refers to an EASO report from 2017, saying that all kinds of medicines are available at the markets of Afghanistan. They do not consider if this is true after the Taliban takeover.
Case no. 6 was 24 years old when he applied for permanent residence permit according to the “gymnasium law”. The official miscalculated his age to 25, which is above the upper age limit for this permit. He has spent more than seven years in Sweden. Except for less than 12 months, he was either in asylum process or had temporary residence permit. During this time he finished his gymnasium studies, worked and married a Swedish woman. The argument from the Migration Agency: “During the about 2 years 8 months you have lived in Sweden during legal stay, the Agency judges that you have not rooted in so much in the Swedish society that it can be considered that you have a stronger connection to Sweden than to Afghanistan.”
Case no. 8 had an interview of three hours at the Migration Agency. It mostly dealt with his change of religion. The Migration Agency’s comments are “your information that you don’t believe in any religion is short and sweeping and you have not been able to tell in a profound way about your thoughts, feelings and reasoning about your atheistic perception. … You have not made it likely that you have distanced yourself from Islam”. Contrary to this, when others read the protocol from the interview, they are impressed by how well he could nuance and explain his gradual evolution from Muslim to atheist.
Case no. 10 is a young man with diagnosed ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), including limited control of impulses. He has abandoned Islam, has large visible tatoos and lives in a “Westernised” way. The Migration Agency denies asylum as he cannot produce “profound reflections and considerations” and “personal theological considerations”. They also dismiss the documented risk that he will not be able to control himself in a critical situation, and thus draw negative attention to himself.
Cases no. 11 and 12 show the arbitrary assessments made by the Migration Agency when it comes to the importance of the time spent in Sweden. Case no. 11 is born in 2001. The Migration Agency considers him to have lived “his formative years” in Sweden. For case no. 12, born in 2002, the Agency says “the time you spent in Sweden must be regarded as short compared to the time you spent in Afghanistan”.
Case no. 13 committed suicide the night after he received the rejection. According to the medical certificate presented to the Migration Agency, the risk for suicide would be very high in case of rejection. As he had not committed suicidal acts earlier, The Migration Agency still concluded that he had not made his life-threatening condition likely.
Case no. 17 is a Hazara and Christian. He probably has some mental disability. Comment from the Migration Agency concerning his argument that he is Westernised: “It depends on the circumstances if you would have problems due to Westernisation in Afghanistan, but a lot depends on a person's ability to censor himself, maturity, and being able to note what is acceptable or not. This should also be true considering the current Taliban rule in Afghanistan.”
Case no. 18 is a LGBTQI-person and atheist, living in a Westernised way. He belongs to an ethnic minority group. About Taliban’s and other’s possibility to identify him on social media, the Migration Agency says “Your social media activities cannot be linked to you because your identity is unclear [to us].” About his answers during the investigation of his sexuality: “You have several times mentioned concepts such as ‘thoughts’, ‘feelings’ and that you have reasoned with yourself in relation to various themes. … You have not given a detailed account of what your thoughts and feelings have consisted of. The same assessment is made in relation to alleged reasoning you must have had with yourself.”
Case no. 19 is Hazara and Christian. He arrived with his family but had his formal age raised with five years. He is thus treated as an independent adult and denied residence permit, although other members of his family were allowed to stay.
Case no. 20 was 13 years old when he arrived in Sweden and has developed into atheism. According to a certificate from a psychologist, he has difficulties in reasoning and analyses at an abstract level. The Migration Agency dismisses his attempts to describe his atheism and Westernization, with the comment “the Agency finds that much of what you say is about you finding yourself at home in Sweden with its values”.
The first impression when reading several rejections is that “copy and paste” is a common method, although every verdict should be individually based. Terms like vague, general, without deep reflections, missing details are present in all verdicts.
The demands on how to prove one’s apostasy/sexuality/Westernization are extremely high, specially difficult to fulfil for persons with a short education. Arriving in Sweden as teenagers, they were still in the formative period of their lives. Here they met not only school but also churches, organisations and individuals. A study from 2016 showed that unaccompanied minors integrate faster compared to “familychildren” who arrived with their parents. In a new study 13 young adults, former UAM:s, declared that within a few years from arrival, they embraced central norms and values of the Swedish society, like freedom of speech and religion, as well as gender equality. This “Westernization” has during the long stay in Sweden become an integrated part of their identity. This is recognized in France, where it is enough to have lived many years in Sweden to get residence permit.
A confusing conclusion from the Agency is that although a person has his/her full name and his/her photo on social media, he/she will not be recognized in Afghanistan because the Swedish Migration Agency considers his/her identity not proved.
EUAA stresses that the risks for an individual are amplified if the person belongs to several risk profiles. However, belonging to several risk profiles is not enough for the Agency, as individual refugee grounds are also necessary for approval of the application.
When comparing with the EUAA report from January 2023, it is thus clear that the Migration Agency interprets the indications as narrowly as possible, and does not include all paragraphs in their assessments. In several cases, there is no account taken to the situation of today in Afghanistan, and no “forward-looking assessment” is done.
 Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, Expression and Sex Characteristics
 Hall, Emma. Mellan rörelse och stillhet. Minne och flykt i unga människors berättande 2009-2021 (Between movement and stillness. Memory and escape in young persons’ storytelling 2009-2021). Dissertation, Malmö University, 2023.
This section, compiled in May 2023, contains a selection of important texts that should form the basis of Swedish decisions regarding Afghan asylum seekers.
Note: Translations from Swedish are not officially authorised.
Article 9: “Everyone has the right to freedom of
thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his
religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in
public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching,
practice and observance.”
Governing legal document from Swedish Migration Agency
In the Swedish Migration Agency's governing legal document ("Assessment of protection needs for citizens in Afghanistan" RS/089/2021, last revised 2023-01-24) reference is made to EUAA's "Country guidance: Afghanistan January 2023" for the assessment of asylum seekers' reasons for protection. The Swedish document further states:
“An individual assessment must be made of whether the applicant belongs to a vulnerable group or has a risk profile based on current country information. The risk level "well-founded fear would in general be substantiated" means that a person who belongs to such a profile generally has a well-founded fear of persecution, which makes it easier for the person to fulfill his burden of proof. However, even in these cases, an individual assessment must be made as to whether the applicant in the individual case is at risk of persecution.” (page 5)
“The humanitarian situation in Afghanistan is very serious. However, the situation is not generally such that there can be considered to be particularly or especially painful circumstances according to Chapter 5. Section 6 of the Aliens Act. A summarizing and individual assessment must be made of the circumstances of the case, where networks and the possibility of livelihood should be part of the assessment.” (page 9)
Assessment of obstacles to enforcement vis-à-vis Afghanistan
"There are reports that some international air traffic to Kabul has now resumed following the Taliban takover. Based on the above-mentioned reporting, the Swedish Migration Agency makes the assessment that there is currently no general practical obstacle to enforcement in Afghanistan." (RS/089/2021 page 10)
The Swedish Migration Agency or the border police do not carry out forced deportations to Afghanistan. The Swedish Migration Agency also does not provide travel documents for those who may wish to return voluntarily after a deportation decision. The Swedish Migration Agency offers SEK 30,000 in re-establishment support to those who return voluntarily, but there is no organization in place that can pay out the support. (Information from the Migration Agency May 2023)
Chapter 3 of the EUAA report deals with refugee status. There, a number of profiles are presented that may come into question for being granted refugee status. In addition to this, EUAA stresses that an individual can often belong to several profiles, and that the risks are then amplified. Among the presented profiles are the following:
This profile covers persons who are considered to have abandoned or renounced the religious belief or principles of Islam (apostasy), as well as persons considered to have spoken sacrilegiously about God or sacred things (blasphemy). It includes individuals who have converted to a new faith, based on their genuine inner belief (e.g. converts to Christianity), as well as those who disbelieve or lack belief in the existence of God (atheists). It can be noted that, often, the latter grounds would be invoked sur place.
Acts reported to be committed against individuals under this profile are of such severe nature that they amount to persecution (e.g. death penalty, killing, violent attacks). For individuals considered to have committed blasphemy and/or apostasy, including converts, well-founded fear of persecution would in general be substantiated.
This profile refers to individuals whose actions, behaviours, or practices are seen as transgressing religious, moral and/or societal norms, irrespective of whether the perceived transgression of norms occurred in Afghanistan or abroad. Practices perceived as a transgression of these norms depend on several factors such as local context, actors involved and their interpretation of these norms.
Acts reported to be committed against individuals under this profile are of such severe nature that they amount to persecution (e.g. imprisonment, corporal punishment, honour-based violence and killing). When the acts in question are restrictions on the exercise of certain rights of less severe nature or (solely) discriminatory measures, the individual assessment of whether they could amount to persecution should take into account the severity and/or repetitiveness of the acts or whether they occur as an accumulation of various measures.
For individuals perceived to have committed zina well-founded fear of persecution would in general be substantiated.
For other individuals perceived to have transgressed moral and/or societal norms in Afghanistan or abroad, the individual assessment of whether there is a reasonable degree of likelihood to face persecution should take into account risk-impacting circumstances, such as: gender (the risk is higher for women), profession (especially artists, barbers), area of origin, and conservative environment, visibility of the applicant and the transgression (also when the transgression took place abroad), etc.
This profile refers to persons who are perceived as ‘Westernised’ due, for example, to their activities, behaviour, appearance and expressed opinions, which may be seen as non-Afghan or non-Muslim. It may also include those who return to Afghanistan after having spent time in Western countries. This profile may largely overlap with the profile 3.12. Individuals perceived to have transgressed religious, moral and/or societal norms, for example in relation to norms associated with dress code.
Acts reported to be committed against individuals under this profile are of such severe nature that they amount to persecution (e.g. violence by family members, conservative elements in society, Taliban). When the acts in question are restrictions on the exercise of certain rights of less severe nature or (solely) discriminatory measures, the individual assessment of whether they could amount to persecution should take into account the severity and/or repetitiveness of the acts or whether they occur as an accumulation of various measures.
The individual assessment of whether there is a reasonable degree of likelihood for the applicant to face persecution should take into account risk-impacting circumstances, such as: the behaviour adopted by the applicant, visibility of the applicant, area of origin and conservative environment, gender (the risk is higher for women), age (it may be difficult for children of certain age to (re-)adjust to Afghanistan’s social restrictions), duration of stay in a western country, etc.
This profile includes people who belong to the Hazara ethnicity and others belonging to the Shia religion. Mostly, persons of Hazara ethnicity are of Shia religion [Targeting 2022, 6.1, p. 126]. There are two main Shia communities in Afghanistan: the main Shia branch Ithna Ashariya (‘the Twelvers’) and the smaller Ismaili branch (‘the Seveners’). The majority of the Hazara population inhabits the Hazarajat. There are also major Hazara populations in the cities of Kabul, Herat and Mazar-e Sharif [Targeting 2022, 6.4.1, p. 130]. The Hazara ethnicity can usually be recognised by their physical appearance.
Acts reported to be committed against individuals under this profile are of such severe nature that they amount to persecution (e.g. killing, abduction, sectarian attacks). When the acts in question are restrictions on the exercise of certain rights of less severe nature or (solely) discriminatory measures, the individual assessment of whether they could amount to persecution should take into account the severity and/or repetitiveness of the acts or whether they occur as an accumulation of various measures.
The individual assessment of whether there is a reasonable degree of likelihood for a Hazara and/or Shia applicant to face persecution should take into account their area of origin and whether ISKP has operational capacity there, with those from Hazara-dominated areas in larger cities being particularly at risk.
This profile refers to persons who are perceived as not conforming to religious and/or social norms because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity, including the treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, non-binary, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) individuals. However, it should be noted that specific information on some of the relevant sub-profiles was not available in the COI reports used for the purpose of this analysis.
Acts reported to be committed against individuals under this profile are of such severe nature that they amount to persecution (e.g. rape, execution, killings). Persecution could be by the Taliban or other armed groups, as well as by the family and/or the society in general, as there is a low societal tolerance in Afghanistan for individuals with sexual orientation or gender identities deviating from the ‘norm’.
3.18. Individuals involved in blood feuds and land disputes
3.18.1. Blood feuds (Last update: December 2020)
Blood feuds for revenge-taking can be the result of personal violence or wrong-doing that is seen as being against honour, disputes involving land, or in the context of family conflicts and relationships.
Acts reported to be committed against family members involved in a blood feud are of such severe nature that they amount to persecution (e.g. killing).For men directly involved in a blood feud, well-founded fear of persecution would in general be substantiated.
For women, for children and for men who are farther removed from the feud, the individual assessment of whether there is a reasonable degree of likelihood for the applicant to face persecution should take into account risk-impacting circumstances, such as: intensity of the blood feud, origin from areas where the rule of law is weak, etc.
3.18.2. Land disputes
Land disputes are common in Afghanistan due to the fragmented regularisation/registration of land, large population movements and rapid urbanisation, the protracted conflict situation, and a weak rule of law.
Disputes over land would not in themselves amount to persecution. However, the violence that entails from land disputes, together with the lack of an effective legal system to prevent it, may result in severe violations of basic human rights which would amount to persecution (e.g. killing).
The individual assessment of whether there is a reasonable degree of likelihood for the applicant to face persecution should take into account risk-impacting circumstances, such as: violent nature of the dispute, ethnicity, power and influence of the actors involved in the land dispute, area of origin, etc
This profile refers to people with disabilities, including mental disabilities, as well as those who have severe medical issues, including mental health issues.
The lack of personnel and adequate infrastructure to appropriately address the needs of individuals with (severe) medical issues fails to meet the requirement of Article 6 QD regarding the existence of an actor that inflicts persecution or serious harm, unless the individual is intentionally deprived of healthcare.
The actor requirement may be satisfied in specific cases of denial of healthcare, such as in the case of women denied access to healthcare due to not being accompanied by a mahram, not wearing a hijab, or not being allowed to be seen by a male healthcare professional. See the sub-section a. Restrictions of rights and freedoms under the Taliban under the profile 3.15 Women and girls.
For persons living with mental and physical disabilities, the individual assessment whether discrimination and mistreatment by society and/or by the family could amount to persecution should take into account the severity and/or repetitiveness of the acts or whether they occur as an accumulation of various measures. The individual assessment of whether there is a reasonable degree of likelihood for the applicant to face persecution should take into account risk-impacting circumstances, such as: nature and visibility of the mental or physical disability, negative perception by the family, etc.