• Sweden edition
 
The hidden lives of Sweden’s undocumented migrants

The hidden lives of Sweden’s undocumented migrants

Published: 09 Jul 2008 15:02 GMT+02:00
Updated: 09 Jul 2008 15:02 GMT+02:00

Ahmad curses the mess that is his life as he winds his way down the narrow spiral staircase of the three-storey building he has been working in for the last two weeks. The 28-year-old building contractor from Afghanistan has been eking out an existence outside the system ever since his most recent asylum application was rejected by the Swedish authorities last year.

The Migration Board made it clear that his country was sufficiently secure to permit his safe return. But Ahmad scoffs at the notion and says he has decided to live and die in Sweden.

“The Migration Board says that we have an army and police. I hope they understand that these are the same guys who have taken part in the 30 year old Afghan war; they have just changed their brand name from Mujahedin to National Army or National Police Force,” he tells The Local.

Ahmad came to Sweden as an asylum seeker when his father was killed by the victorious Mujahedin, who assumed control of the security situation in Afghanistan after the US led coalition smashed the hard line Taliban regime in late 2001.

“They killed my father because he was an honest civil servant and did not share the ideas they had,” he tells The Local.

“If they had found me they would definitely have killed me too.”

After almost two years spent passing through various countries at the hands of human smugglers, he finally reached Sweden in 2004 and applied for asylum.

But the Swedish Migration Board rejected his application. Writing to him in late 2005, the board said it did not believe that Ahmad’s life would be in danger if he was sent back to Afghanistan. The country had become more stable, the letter read, and there were thousands of foreign troops to help police its more lawless territories.

Ahmad is one of around six hundred Afghans who have chosen to live in hiding after the Migration Board threatened them with deportation. Their fate shared by an estimated 15,000 foreign nationals living in Sweden as undocumented migrants.

Ahmad’s situation was not always this bleak. Between November 2005 and March 2006, the then Social Democratic-led government introduced a temporary amnesty making it possible for around 30,000 migrants to have their asylum applications reassessed under more generous terms than was previously the case.

The amnesty covered both migrants who had been living in hiding, as well as those whose applications had been rejected but were stuck in Sweden because of unrest in their home countries or a lack of cooperation from authorities in their home countries in carrying out Sweden's deportation orders.This resulted in the granting of 13,051 permanent residence permits and 4,282 one-year permits.

Ahmad managed to secure a one-year residence permit in the spring of 2006, along with a promise that the board would review his case again a year later.

Relieved at having received permission to remain in Sweden, Ahmad set up a construction firm, rented a house and began developing a social network.

“Life was great,” he says. “I felt like a human being again after a very long and difficult time in my life.”

But the glorious year passed quickly and in the summer of 2007 Ahmad received a letter from the Migration Board stating that it was preparing to review his case.

“I knew nothing good would come of it. So I abandoned my apartment, fired my employees, sold my truck and went into hiding,” he says.

His prognosis proved correct: the Migration Board revoked his residence permit and advised him to return to Afghanistan or face forced deportation.

Ever since the board decided to review his application, Ahmad has been living in a three room rental apartment in the suburbs with six of his similarly “illegal” countrymen.

Though Ahmad is better off than his flatmates, the jobs he takes do not pay well and sometimes he is not paid at all. But he earns enough to feed himself and, when needs must, some of his compatriots.

“We are all in the same boat,” he says.

As the bus from work weaves it ways through a wealthy suburban neighbourhood, Ahmad points out a brown apartment building that houses the clinic he visits if ever he gets sick. The clinic, which is run by Doctors of the World, is open once a week from 7pm to 9pm.

A few days after meeting Ahmad, The Local returns to the clinic, where other migrants struggle to deal with their own personal dramas.

Patients sit on a red corner sofa in a room at the end of an orange and off-white hallway. On the wall hangs a large portrait of the Hindu deity Krishna. A group of toddlers play with some old toys and a box full of Lego. The room is separated by a divider, on the other side of which sits a woman with bright green eyes and a broad smile.

“Welcome to the asylum corner,” says Karolina Johansson, one of the clinic’s consultants.

She explains that the clinic provides undocumented migrants with more than just medical care; they are also offered free survival tips and asylum consultation.

“We basically inform people who live in hiding how to avoid situations which could endanger their lives,” says Johansson.

But just as she runs through the clinic’s sundry services, a young man approaches and imparts some bad news.

“Hi Karolina,” he says. “Did you hear about those seven Afghans who were taken by the police from the food factory?”

“No!” says Johansson, visibly upset by the news.

The men in question were arrested by the Swedish Border Police on June 4th at a food processing plant in the suburbs of Stockholm following an unsuccessful appeal to the Migration Court.

Ahmad is furious when he hears about the raid later. He directs his anger not at the police but at his fellow countrymen.

“They should have known better than to work in a place for which the police have the address,” he says.

“Look at me. I abandoned my own business just to avoid arrest.”

Back in the clinic, the drama continues to unfold.

One woman is there to renew her ageing mother’s prescriptions, while a Serbian man tells a lawyer that his son will never make a full recovery if his family is deported.

A couple from Azerbaijan have brought in their three-year-old daughter Alex in the hope of finding a doctor who can help cure her of a respiratory ailment that has been keeping them all awake at night.

Alex’s parents have lived in Sweden for 4 years, two and a half of which have been spent in hiding.

“Of course it is hard to live here the way we do, but the consequences of going back home make the difficulties we face here pale into insignificance,” says the girl’s father.

Most of the undocumented migrants are encouraged by the clinic to stay on in Sweden in the hope of securing an amnesty, or at last until the statute of limitations permits asylum seekers to apply anew.

“There is always hope at the end of the tunnel,” says Karolina Johansson.

But both Ahmad and the patients at the clinic hold out little hope of emerging from their hiding places until 2010 at the earliest; Migration Minister Tobias Billström has said there will be no amnesty for refugees during the current term.

Editors Note: The original version of this article contained a lack of specificity regarding Sweden's temporary amnesty program from 2005 to 2006. The current version of the article contains updated information.

Faisal Enayat Khan (news@thelocal.se)

Today's headlines
Ebola crisis
Sweden pledges new aid to UN Ebola fund
Photo: TT

Sweden pledges new aid to UN Ebola fund

Sweden has offered a new sizeable contribution to the fund set up by UN chief Ban K-moon to fight the Ebola outbreak. READ  

Society
'Dark forces' target refugee hunting scheme
Photo: Lars-Göran Thuresson/Älgriket

'Dark forces' target refugee hunting scheme

The Swedish hunting association runs a project to encourage young asylum-seekers to learn about hunting, a move which has proved controversial among some far right groups. READ  

Business & Money
American sales squeeze Ericsson profits
Ericsson CEO Hans Vestberg presents the third-quarter earnings report at the company's headquarters in Kista. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT

American sales squeeze Ericsson profits

Swedish telecoms equipment maker Ericsson reported a decline in net profit in the third quarter despite an increase in sales, boosted by business in emerging markets. READ  

Interview
'Too many concerts feel the same'
Sofar hosts secret gigs in Swedish apartments. Photo: Sofar

'Too many concerts feel the same'

Kattis Bjork founded Stockholm's secret gig scene - Sofar - a year ago. The Local caught up with her as she prepared to celebrate the project's anniversary this weekend and revealed the concept will spread to other Swedish cities in 2015. READ  

Stockholm 'sub hunt'
Sweden calls off suspect submarine search
Ships are returning to shore in Sweden. Photo: TT

Sweden calls off suspect submarine search

The core search for a suspected foreign vessel in Swedish waters has been called off. The armed forces said they remained convinced foreign underwater activity had taken place but had not identified an intruder. READ  

Business & Money
US and Japan fuel surge for Volvo trucks
Ed Carbaugh prepares to install parts on a truck engine on an assembly line at Volvo Trucks' powertrain manufacturing facility in Hagerstown, Maryland, March 2014. Photo: Patrick Semansky/AP

US and Japan fuel surge for Volvo trucks

Sweden's Volvo, the world's second-largest maker of trucks, said Friday it saw a spike in profits in the third quarter, boosted by thriving sales in the US and Japanese markets. READ  

Inspectors attacked at rogue doc’s surgery
Cigarettes and beer photo: Shutterstock

Inspectors attacked at rogue doc’s surgery

Inspectors who were sent to shut down a doctor’s surgery in Gothenburg were physically attacked and fled the premises to get help from the police. READ  

Police turn Swede’s vodka into water
A Swede loads a car with alcohol in northern Germany. File photo: Drago Prvulovic/TT

Police turn Swede’s vodka into water

Swedish police say they will pay a man 16,000 kronor ($2,200) in damages after much of the alcohol they confiscated from him was stolen, while many of the bottles they returned were filled with water. READ  

Diplomacy
US to get first female ambassador in Sweden
File photo: Athena Center for Leadership Studies

US to get first female ambassador in Sweden

The United States Embassy in Stockholm is set to get its first female ambassador after the White House announced it was nominating the Iranian-American ex-investment banker Azita Raji to take over from Mark Brzezinski. READ  

Neo-Nazi attacks
Neo-Nazis cleared of knife attack on Nigerian
Police intervene after neo-Nazis attack an anti-Nazi rally in Kärrtorp, December 2013. Photo: Hampus Andersson/TT

Neo-Nazis cleared of knife attack on Nigerian

A Stockholm court has cleared three neo-Nazis of stabbing a Nigerian man in an unprovoked attack. But two of the men will face jail after they were convicted of racial agitation at a riot. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Lifestyle
What's On in Sweden: October 24th - 31st
Gallery
People-watching: October 22nd
Gallery
In Pictures: Prince Carl Philip and Sofia Hellqvist
Lifestyle
Eight things to love about renting a Swedish apartment
National
Vasa ship cannon blasted in Sweden
Blog updates

24 October

Editor’s blog, October 24th (The Local Sweden) »

"Hi readers, Get ready to read our weekly digest of Swedish news in less than 60 seconds. The..." READ »

 

24 October

Is darkness weather? (Blogweiser) »

"I try very hard not to talk about the weather. This has come after a decade..." READ »

 
 
 
National
Sub hunt: Day-by-day
National
Sub hunt: Stockholm islanders share their fears with The Local
Sponsored Article
The best options for oversea transfers
National
Get 20% off unique Swedish homeware
National
Dentist gives free care to Roma beggars
Business & Money
Get your own office in Gothenburg or Stockholm - free for a day
Gallery
Property of the week: Malmö
Gallery
PHOTOS: 'Foreign activity' in Swedish waters
Gallery
People-watching: October 19th
TT
Society
QUIZ: How good is your Swedish?
Lifestyle
What's on in Sweden: October 17th - 24th
Society
The nudity... and nine other things expat men notice in Sweden
Gallery
People-watching: October 15th
Gallery
Your views: Should outdoor smoking be banned in Sweden?
Business & Money
Sweden has 'large hole' in finances
Sponsored Article
Introducing... Finding a job in Stockholm
Society
Monster salmon caught in northern Sweden
Gallery
Property of the week: Lorensberg
National
Scandinavia's child bride
National
Ebola crisis: How is Sweden preparing?
Business & Money
How Sweden is becoming a cashless society
Gallery
Stockholm Burlesque Festival 2014
National
How a little red horse became a symbol for Sweden
Gallery
People-watching: October 12th
Business & Money
The hottest start-ups from southern Sweden
National
What's on in Sweden: October 10th - 17th
National
Stockholm is 'best' region for well-being
Gallery
People-watching: October 8th
National
Five facts to know about Patrick Modiano
Society
My Swedish Career: A French fashionista in Sweden
Society
Swede's anti-bully Facebook tale goes viral
Society
Have you seen Sweden's viral subway cancer campaign?
National
Isis: Swedes linked to Turkish prisoner swap
National
Should Swedes be banned from buying sex abroad?
Gallery
Fredrik Reinfeldt's leaving presents
National
Five Swedish TV shows you shouldn't miss
Gallery
A tool belt, a casserole, and a book. Fredrik Reinfeldt's parliament gifts
TT
Lifestyle
Top five winter festivals in Sweden
TT
National
Sami reindeer herders win mine reprieve
Gallery
Property of the Week: Gamla Enskede
Sponsored Article
How to catch the first lobster of the year
Team SCA
Sponsored Article
All-female SCA team takes off on Volvo Ocean Race
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

979
jobs available
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions is an innovative business company which provides valuable assistance with the Swedish Authorities, Swedish language practice and general communications. Call 073-100 47 81 or visit:
www.swedishdowntown.com
PSD Media
PSD Media is marketing company that offers innovative solutions for online retailers. We provide modern solutions that help increase traffic and raise conversion. Visit our site at:
http://psdmedia.se
If you want to drink, that’s your business.
If you want to stop, we can help.

Learn more about English-language Alcoholics Anonymous in Sweden. No dues. No fees. Confidentiality assured.
AA-EUROPE.ORG/SWEDEN