“Harder than ever” to gain Swedish asylum

In February just 1,413 people sought asylum in Sweden, according to figures released by the Migration Board this week. That's the lowest monthly figure for nearly four years. But while the overall numbers are falling, the government is concerned about Chinese asylum seekers who arrive in Sweden and then disappear while their application is being processed.

There are several factors contributing to the fall. It’s harder than ever to convince the Swedish government that one needs a safe haven: nine out of ten applications are rejected on the first go-round.

Three years ago 35 percent of applicants were permitted to stay in Sweden; five years ago 55 percent could stay.

The Migration Board is not only answering with more negative decisions, it’s faster. A spokesman said that “unfounded” applications are now easily weeded out.

Sweden is not alone: the trend of European Union nations rejecting asylum-seekers is growing, and the United Nations is worried. The High Commissioner on Refugees, while on a visit here last week, urged Sweden last week to think of “protecting refugees rather than crunching numbers”.

One-fifth of all asylum-seekers in Sweden are from Serbia-Montenegro. Even fewer – less than one percent – are from China, but it is this group that has now attracted the attention of the Swedish police.

It seems that 60 Chinese teenagers applied for asylum in November 2004 but disappeared from under the very noses of the increasingly-efficient Migration Board. A few have been seen in Holland and Germany.

The Swedish government is now considering putting a police ombudsman in Beijing to try to stop more teenagers from coming to Sweden to apply for asylum, then disappear. Migration minister Barbro Holmberg said the problem seems to be growing.

“Our migration attaché in Beijing doesn’t have time to work properly with this issue,” she said.

Holmberg suspects that religious persecution may be at the root of the disappearing asylum-seekers: some of the teens are said to have parents active in the Falun Gong movement. Other authorities within the Migration Board, and Swedish police, hint at smuggling.

The teens are all well-dressed, have about the same amount of money, and fancy mobile phones.

“We see the pattern that none of them plan on staying in Sweden, but we don’t know where they go,” says Per Sörensen, head of the Migration Board’s unit for children and youth.

“One risk is that these young and naïve people are working illegally, then they can be tricked into situations to earn money much faster.”

Swedish authorities are taking the issue to a European Union meeting in Brussels to ask for help.

Sources: Dagens Nyheter, Expressen, Sydsvenskan