Doctors slam government refugee kids policy

Pediatricians in Sweden have protested against the Scandinavian country's refugee policy, accusing authorities of violating the rights of child asylum seekers by refusing them health care.

Child asylum seekers are sent back to their home countries despite expert medical opinions recommending that they stay in Sweden to receive care, professor Tor Lindberg, who heads a working group for refugee children within the Swedish pediatric society, told AFP.

In the past three or four years, the agency which reviews asylum-seekers’ appeals against decisions by the Migration Board, the Aliens Appeals Board, has tightened its criteria for granting asylum.

“The criteria are getting tougher and tougher. Most of these children are not allowed to stay here,” Lindberg said, adding that his group had submitted a protest letter to the Aliens Appeals Board.

“We write (medical) certificates where we express our views on a specific child and so on. But they don’t take them into account … our advice is not being followed,” Lindberg lamented.

He said Sweden was not respecting its commitments to the UN convention on the rights of the child.

“Most of these children have been abused in their home countries. Their mental health is not good, so they have big problems to go back to their countries,” he stressed.

Several children whose asylum requests were rejected by Swedish authorities have had their cases taken to the European Court of Justice, which ruled in favour of granting them asylum.

In recent months Swedish authorities have been heavily criticised for refusing to grant amnesty to hundreds of child asylum seekers who are suffering from severe depression, the cause of which is not known.

Some of these so-called “apathetic children”, as they have been dubbed by the media, are unable to eat, speak or even move, and in the most severe cases they have been in a state of total paralysis for up to a year.

A total of 410 children seeking asylum have since January 2003 experienced some form of acute depression resulting in various degrees of apathy, most of whom are aged eight to 15.

These children are “only the tip of the iceberg,” Lindberg said.