Refugees: only 10% given residence permits

Sweden's reputation as a haven for refugees took a beating this week. While seventies and eighties Sweden had one of the world's most liberal immigration policies, the country now grants fewer applications for residency than the European average. And the stress of waiting is having a worrying effect on refugees' health.

In the first half of this year, reported DN, only ten percent of those claiming refugee status in Sweden were given a residence permit. As recently as 2000 this figure was 23 percent, according to the Swedish Migration Board’s figures. Whereas ten years ago Sweden was more generous than the average European country, it is now comparatively tough.

The Migration Board puts the reduced figures down to increased efficiency. “The reduction is due to the fact that we are dealing with cases more quickly,” said press officer Marie Andersson. “This means that fewer people are able to claim to stay on humanitarian grounds.”

But at the Advice Bureau for Asylum Seekers and Refugees, this reasoning doesn’t wash. The head of the bureau, Anders Sundquist, told DN that the Migration Board’s work was of a low standard, and that its decisions were too often based on ignorance and stereotypes. Sundquist said that asylum seekers were frequently told to seek help from the legal authorities in their home countries, “but it is naive to believe that police and prosecutors in these countries work in the same way as they do in Sweden”.

Unsurprisingly perhaps, the stress of being a migrant is affecting the health of some asylum seekers in Sweden. And according to Saturday’s DN, the children of some people in the immigration process are suffering particularly badly. According to a new report, over 150 refugee children in Sweden suffer from severe apathy, which can be a life-threatening illness.

The report cited the example of a boy who was found preparing to throw himself off a bridge, and who later became withdrawn, eventually becoming incontinent and refusing to eat, drink and talk.

While many have been quick to blame the stress of the asylum process for the children’s illness, child psychiatrist Göran Bodegård told DN that it was wrong to blame the system for the problems.

“It’s a combination of factors,” he said, “including how they are taken care of here, and their experiences in their home countries.” Most important of all, however, was the parents’ mental state. Depressed mothers were unable to show children that life was worth living, and children were seen to improve when their mothers’ depression eased.