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IMMIGRATION

‘Lynch mob’ prompts refugees to flee town in northern Sweden

Nearly half of the predominantly Iraqi-refugees residing in Vännäs in northern Sweden have decided to permanently move out of the area after being terrorized by what police called “a lynch mob” in early May.

“I thought that Vännäs was the perfect place for us. And there are many, many friendly people here. But we still don’t dare to stay; I’m seriously concerned about my children’s safety,” said father of five Ismail Ramadan to the Svenska Dagbladet (SvD) newspaper.

Ramadan’s family and several others have decided to abandon plans of starting a life in the small community outside of Umeå less than two weeks after a group of 30 to 50 young people assembled outside the apartment building in which the refugees lived and began shouting threats and throwing stones.

The May 9th incident resulted in several broken windows and many frightened refugees.

“I can’t even describe to you how horrible it was. ‘Now it’s over, here they come!’ I thought,” Ramadan told SvD.

“We all cried and screamed. We spent the whole night lying in the hall and held each other tightly.”

The weekend of harassment prompted municipality refugee coordinator Ingrid Lindroth to evacuate the refugees to safety.

“I made the decision after speaking with a number of refugees who were extremely scared – simply terrified. It was an easy decision,” she told SvD.

But the move was criticized by police, who characterized the decision to evacuate around 40 refugees as “significantly more drastic” than necessary, adding that it complicated the police’s investigation into the incident.

“We don’t believe this is a racially motivated dispute, but rather a disagreement between a number of young people, some of whom live in the refugee building and others from the area,” said local police commander Uno Nilsson to SvD the at the time of the incident.

According to the Västerbotten-Kuriren newspaper, the dispute began when a group of local youths confronted a refugee boy about the assault of a local girl which took place Tuesday night.

The initial school yard confrontation, during which the refugee boy was pressed for information rather than accused of involvement in the assault, but was also allegedly pushed to the ground, escalated during the course of the week through subsequent run ins, culminating in the weekend’s disturbances.

The day following the attacks, several hundred Vännäs residents gathered to demonstrate in support of the refugees and to denounce what they perceived to be racially motivated attacks.

While the families were welcomed back to Vännäs with flowers after the evacuation, about 30 out of the roughly 70 refugees have ultimately decided to move out of the community of 4,000 residents, much to the dismay of local politicians.

“It’s not confirmed that they will leave yet, but if they do, it is obviously a failure on our part. No one should need to leave Vännäs because they are afraid or worried,” municipal council member Johan Söderling told the newspaper.

Police are also still investigating the matter in hopes of clarifying exactly what took place and who or what may have lay behind the attack.

Prosecutor Lotta Sundström expected it would take at least several more days for her office to make sense of the more than 20 different complaints which have been submitted.

“No one has yet been informed that they are suspected of a crime,” she said to SvD.

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READER QUESTIONS

Reader question: How do you meet the requirements for a sambo visa?

In Sweden, a sambo is domestic partner – someone you’re in a relationship with and live with, but to whom you aren’t married. If you, as a non-EU citizen, are in a sambo relationship with a Swedish citizen, you can apply for a residence permit on the basis of that relationship. But meeting the requirements of that permit is not always straightforward.

Reader question: How do you meet the requirements for a sambo visa?

An American reader, whose son lives with his Swedish partner, wrote to The Local with questions about the maintenance requirement her son and his partner must meet in order to qualify for a sambo resident permit.

“Their specific issue is that they meet the requirements for a stable relationship and stable housing, but have been told that qualifying for a sambo visa based on savings is unlikely,” she wrote, asking for suggestions on how to approach this issue. Her son’s partner is a student with no income, but whose savings meet maintenance requirements. But, they have been told by lawyers that Migrationsverket will likely deny the application based on the absence of the Swedish partner’s income.

How do relationships qualify for sambo status?

In order to apply for a residence permit on the basis of a sambo relationship, you and your partner must either be living together, or plan to live together as soon as the non-Swedish partner can come to Sweden. Because this reader’s son is already in Sweden as a graduate student, he can apply for a sambo permit without having to leave the country, provided that his student permit is still valid at the time the new application is submitted.

The Migration Agency notes that “you can not receive a residence permit for the reason that you want to live with a family member in Sweden before your current permit expires”. So once your valid permit is close to expiration, you can apply for a new sambo permit.

What are the maintenance requirements for a sambo permit?

The maintenance requirements for someone applying for a sambo permit fall on the Swedish partner, who must prove that they are able to support both themselves and their partner for the duration of the permit. This includes both housing and financial requirements.

In terms of residential standards that applicants must meet, they must show that they live in a home of adequate size – for two adult applicants without children, that means at least one room with a kitchen. If rented, the lease must be for at least one year.

The financial requirements are more complicated. The Swedish partner must be able to document a stable income that can support the applicant and themselves – for a sambo couple, the 2022 standard is an income of 8,520 kronor per month. This burden falls on the Swedish partner.

While the Migration Agency’s website does say that you may “fulfil the maintenance requirement (be considered able to support yourself) if you have enough money/taxable assets to support yourself, other persons in your household and the family members who are applying for a residence permit for at least two years”, it is unclear how proof of this would be documented. On a separate page detailing the various documents that can be used to prove that maintenance requirements are met, there is nothing about how to document savings that will be used to support the couple.

Can you apply on the basis of savings instead of income?

Well, this is unclear. The Migration Agency’s website does suggest that having enough money saved up to support both members of the sambo relationship is an option, but it gives no details on how to document this. It is also unclear whether applying on the basis of savings will disadvantage applicants, with preference given to applicants who can show proof of income from work.

The Local has reached out to an immigration lawyer to answer this question. 

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