The Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor is concerned by the Swedish Parliament’s decision to renew restrictive immigration laws to limit the number of refugees seeking asylum. The Swedish Parliament on Tuesday 18th June 2019 renewed immigration laws originally put in place in 2015 to restrict the inflow of asylum seekers after the refugee crisis for an additional two years.
The only positive change that resulted from Tuesday’s vote – which Euro-Med Monitor commends – is the lifting of some restrictions on family reunification that will make it easier for the close families of refugees already in Sweden to join them.
In 2015, in response to growing numbers of refugees claiming asylum in Sweden, the Swedish government tightened border controls and made it increasingly difficult to claim a residency permit or to reunite with family members already in Sweden. These changes were supposed to just be for a period of two years from 20th July 2016 until July 2019, but Tuesday’s vote means they will now extend until July 2021.
Prior to 2015, Sweden was one of the most welcoming countries for refugees and migrants. By implementing and then extending these restrictions, the Swedish Government has made it increasingly difficult for those seeking asylum to obtain a residency permit. Successful applications for asylum have declined dramatically in absolute and proportional terms since 2016. Of the approximately 35,500 people who received a decision from the Swedish Migration Agency in 2018, only 32 per cent, or 11,000 people, were granted asylum. This is a marked decline from 2017, where 41 per cent, or 27,000 applicants, were successful, or from 2016, which saw 67,000 people of the 112,000 who applied be granted asylum, or 60 per cent of applicants.
Permits are now much harder to acquire, usually only after long waiting times, and the Swedish Migration Agency will typically only grant temporary residence permits to asylum seekers that only last between one and three years, rather than permanent residency permits. Even when this law was supposed to be temporary, it was widely criticised by many international organisations and non-governmental organisations, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the Red Cross and Amnesty International.
After said restrictions were enacted that made the process of asylum further complicated, the Swedish Institute (SI) – which is a government agency responsible for spreading information about Sweden – stated that “In short, Sweden has gone from having the EU’s most generous asylum laws to adopting the minimum EU level,” which is signified by the dramatic decrease of asylum applicant, let alone approved refugees. SI adds that “Sweden’s policy changes are partly due to the fact that most other EU countries have failed to receive their agreed share of refugees,” such as Hungary, Denmark the Czech Republic and others, which in some instances refused to even take in quota refugees.
Euro-Med Monitor would like to remind all governments that refugees and migrants flee their countries because of war, or due to fear of persecution. The journey is long, tiring and punctuated by grave dangers. Many refugees have lost members of their families on the way, while many children are travelling alone without support. It is the duty of European countries to welcome people in need and protect them.
Euro-Med Monitor strongly believes that giving permanent residency to refugees and migrants means they can actively participate in the life of a country by working, attending school, or sometimes by voting. They need to feel integrated to become active members of society. This is impossible in a scenario where they cannot count on having their residency permits renewed, where they are unable to plan for the future or predict where they will live next.
Euro-Med Monitor calls on the Swedish Government to set an example for other European countries, as it did before 2015, instead of lowering their ethical standards.
Euro-Med Monitor calls on the Sweden government to lift these restrictions and to make it easier for asylum seekers and refugees to claim permanent residence.