Apathetic refugee children could stay in Sweden

Sweden's Aliens Appeals Board has advised the government to allow a 13 year old refugee boy who is suffering from a form of acute depression to stay in the country.

The decision has given hope to hundreds of refugee families with so-called ‘apathetic children’ who, in the most extreme cases, have regressed into a psychological state of total paralysis.

“The government is not bound by what we say but clearly there must be some weight given to the fact that a group of experts has this opinion,” the board’s director-general, Håkan Sandesjö, told Dagens Nyheter.

According to the appeals board, which has powers similar to those of a court of law, the boy needs long term psychiatric treatment. Under such circumstances he ought to be given permanent residence “on humanitarian grounds”, said the board in its judgement. It also recommended giving residence permits to the boy’s family.

The decision, which is being seen as an important precedent, starkly contrasts a ruling by the Swedish parliament at the beginning of April. MPs voted against a proposal granting asylum to the families of the apathetic children, leading to a storm of criticism and casting a shadow on the country’s humanitarian image.

At the time, Migration minister Barbro Holmberg said giving special treatment could increase the risk for even more asylum children to become apathetic.

“That risk I am not prepared to take,” she said.

Enraged by Holmberg’s comments, Green Party MP Gustav Fridolin said he considered it almost racist to suggest that asylum families would manipulate their children in order to obtain permanent residency in Sweden.

“Children cannot feign an illness where they don’t eat, drink, go to the toilet or communicate,” he said.

At the end of May a group of pediatricians protested against the policy, accusing authorities of violating the rights of child asylum seekers by refusing them health care.

Opinion is divided on whether the phenomenon, which has affected 410 children aged 8 to 15 since January 2003, is unique to Sweden. A recent report suggested that it is, and is partly due to the country’s drawn out asylum procedure. But that view was criticised by, among others, the charity Save the Children, which said that such symptoms had been observed in other countries.

Sources: Dagens Nyheter