To be deeply engaged in an asylum case is a jolting experience. The image of a secure legal process in which the asylum seeker is helped to identify his or her grounds for asylum and subsequently having these grounds thoroughly and insightfully assessed has been shattered. The words of politicians – “people without grounds for asylum” and “a no shall be a no” – seem like populist rhetoric, without any foundation in reality. In this politicized game, the Migration Agency and the migration courts are the government bodies the asylum seekers encounter and they are the agents that determine the asylum seekers’ futures. A game of life and death for many seeking asylum in Sweden.
This is a translation of chapter 1.2 of the book Den onödiga flyktingkrisen (The Unnecessary Refugee Crisis). Picture: The six editors of The Unnecessary Refugee Crisis. From left Ingrid Eckerman, Karin Fridell Anter, Jan Stattin, Solveig Freudenthal, Carin Flemström, Birgitta Göransson.
Behind these agents are the government and the political parties, a divided civil society and a flow of information sending contradictory signals. To clarify the situation and lay bare deficiencies in the rule of law seems, at this point, necessary.
We are six out of hundreds of thousands who have met with and helped refugees since 2015. Our statements reflect our own, our refugee friends’ and our “colleagues’” experiences, taken together with facts and analyses based on research and official statistics.
The chapters in this book reveal what has happened since 2015:
- A shocking lack of legal certainty in the asylum process itself, at all levels: i.e. the Migration Agency, migration courts and the Migration Court of Appeal.
- Re-traumatization of unaccompanied children and youth because of being shifted from place to place, a protracted asylum process and rejection.
- Systematic violations of the Human Rights Convention and of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
- Secondary traumatization of people involved from civil society who witness how their adoptive children and friends are treated.
- Diminished trust in politics and in the legal system on the part of all those involved with asylum seekers.
We have produced this book so that no one can say “we didn’t know”. Everyone involved – members of parliament (Riksdag), ministers, government agency staff, et al – now have the possibility of acquainting themselves with the realities of the asylum process.
We know that Sweden has not been merciful to asylum seekers before. Sweden has bussed people back to Bosnia; allowed the US to remove them to be tortured in Egypt; abandoned apathetic children at airports. In exceptional cases, Sweden has agreed to receive large numbers of asylum seekers from certain countries, such as Chile in 1973 and Syria in 2015.
We would argue that the real refugee crisis started on the 24th of November, 2015, when the government stated that Sweden’s asylum policy would correspond to EU’s minimum level and then declared that 60,000-80,000 asylum seekers would be denied asylum. This was confirmed the following summer when the temporary asylum law was passed and asylum seekers were degraded from fellow human beings to unwelcome burdens.
We argue that this refugee crisis was not necessary. It would not have happened if the temporary law was not applied retroactively; if Sweden had taken care of those who had already arrived within its borders in a humane way; if the many unaccompanied children had received their residence permit early on; and if the members of civil society had been given a chance to work with integration instead of having to focus on life-saving efforts.
As legal guardians, contact persons, helpers we have had contacts with a comprehensive number of refugees, especially unaccompanied youth with Afghan citizenship. We have read a considerable number of investigations, decisions and court rulings concerning both individuals we know and others about whom we have been informed by people involved in their cases. Numerous examples of legal uncertainty have been exposed in the social media, in reports and on homepages.
We have seen how praxis has changed, without support in law, and how inexperienced case officers have conducted inadequate investigations which nonetheless have been accepted by all agencies involved. We have seen how the asylum grounds of children within families have not been investigated and how an anxious child’s disconnected testimony has been interpreted as made-up.
We have seen how Migration Agency case officers have consciously broken with the Human Rights Convention when converts, atheists and LGBT persons have been encouraged to conceal their religious beliefs, their lack of belief or their sexual preference.
We have seen how case officers have proceeded from their own values, their own views and conceptions when evaluating testimonies. We have seen how case officers lack relevant knowledge about refoulment destinations and their cultures.
We have seen how all documentation has been assessed as having low evidential value: medical certifications of mental health, documents from school medical staff, the social services and teachers on the asylum seekers’ age, ID documents (e.g. Afghan Tazkira) and passports, school records and vaccination certificates from their homelands.
We have seen how certain legal counselors have devoted the least possible time to their cases. We have heard interpreters who don’t understand what the asylum seeker says, or who refuse to utter certain words, which means that the asylum seeker’s testimony is changed. We know that jurors are not sufficiently prepared and that their decisions are politically influenced.
We have seen how migration courts simply accept the Migration Agency’s statements, without making independent assessments themselves.
We have witnessed at close quarters how Migration Agency case officers have done their best to ensure that asylum seekers are deportable.
We know that the asylum process is like drawing lots in a raffle. Success is determined by factors you cannot influence: who received your application, on which date were you registered, what office you belong to, which case officer and which interpreter were you given, which judge and which jurors examined your case.
All the above has been described in the media, in reports and books that have been made available to all members of parliament, in letters that have been sent to politicians. It is inconceivable that this information has not reached the justice minister and the migration minister. It has been ignored, or the faults and inconsistencies described have been tolerated by the government.
The processing of asylum applications is steered by political decisions. “Strict migration policy” has become a byword in the Swedish parliament. By adopting the new migration law Sweden has placed itself on EU’s minimum level as regards residence permits to refugees, and these permits have the shortest time limit of any in Europe.
We are deeply worried.
Sweden, July 2021
Karin Fridell Anter
Author register (in Swedish)