Asylum “amnesty” passes

Sweden's parliament on Wednesday voted to give asylum seekers whose application has been rejected a second chance to obtain a residence permit.

The law, which is valid until March 31, 2006, concerns rejected asylum seekers whose deportation order was not carried out due to conditions in their home countries, as well as families with children who went into hiding in Sweden after having their applications were refused.

The Swedish immigration authority, Migrationsverket, said an estimated 20,000 people will now be entitled to file new applications, which is currently not allowed under Swedish law.

The government said the move would not guarantee all immigrants a legal status automatically, but opposition politicians and immigration officials said it amounted to a mass amnesty for those in hiding or awaiting deportation.

“It is a big problem that a growing number of people are living outside society,” Barbro Holmberg, minister for immigration, told parliament before the new law, which is to be a temporary measure, was adopted.

“We are now breaking a deadlock and a vacuum in which our society and many people have landed in,” she said.

Immigration officials quoted in Swedish media said they had orders to each process an average of 3.5 asylum requests per day, or one every two hours, with the aim of clearing the application backlog by the end of March.

Currently a decision on each application can take several months.

“Even our bosses say this is an amnesty law but we’re not allowed to call it that,” one official told Dagens Nyheter.

Another said that cursory checks on criminal records would still be possible, “but we can’t conduct any investigation”.

Holmberg would not be drawn on how great the chances of success were for asylum seekers taking advantage of the new rules, and advised illegal immigrants to remain in hiding until the law comes into force next week.

But she said it was important that rejected applicants be deported swiftly “so our asylum system retains its credibility”.

Politicians from the centre-right opposition claimed the law would make it easier for criminals to gain residency, and could even draw illegal immigrants from other European countries to Sweden in the hope of gaining a visa.

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