“I’m the one who is ultimately responsible for this and I’m just waiting for something to go horribly wrong,” Gothenburg police chief Lars Klevensparr told Sveriges Radio (SR) on Tuesday.
“I’ve spoken with the Prison and Probation Service (Kriminalvården) and the Migration Board (Migrationsverket) and no one wants to take responsibility for this.”
The comments come on in the wake of a report by the Göteborgs-Posten (GP) newspaper detailing the difficult conditions facing some refugees who have had their asylum claims rejected.
According to the newspaper, refugees who behave violently or are suicidal can find themselves isolated in local jails for weeks on end.
One suicide-prone man has been locked up for 25 days in a cell in a Gothenburg-area jail with nothing but a mattress and a single ceiling lamp, despite regulations stipulating that people be held in such cells for no more than 96 hours.
Since 2001, the Migration Board has housed violent or suicidal asylum seekers awaiting deportation in detention centres used to house suspected criminals.
But a shortage of spots in nearby detention centres has resulted in several asylum seekers being sent instead to the jail at the local Gothenburg police station, which is normally used as a short-term holding facility for people placed under arrest while they await a formal remand request from a prosecutor.
Since last autumn, more than ten asylum seekers have been forced to undergo extensive stays at the local jail.
According to Klevensparr the situation is untenable. He hopes that filing a complaint with the ombudsman will result in a hearing which could benefit all the agencies involved.
“[I hope] that the ombudsman simply puts it foot down and gives us guidance for how we should deal with this,” he told SR.
“Right now, the police have responsibility. But I don’t think that those who wrote the laws think that the police should be dealing with so many people in holding, and more importantly not for such long periods of time.”
Sweden has come into criticism from both the United Nations refugee organisation UNHCR as well as the UN Committee Against Torture for holding rejected asylum seekers in criminal detention facilities.
In the coming weeks, a Swedish government commission is expected to present proposals for how to improve procedures dealing with asylum seekers held outside of Migration Board holding facilities.
Madelaine Seidlitz, a refugee expert with Amnesty International’s Swedish chapter, was hopeful that a decision by Klevensparr to report himself to the ombudsman could help improve what she described as an “unacceptable” situation.
“It sounds like a good idea,” she told The Local.
Seidlitz admitted that housing asylum seekers who are a danger to themselves or to others presents a number of complications, but that current practices can’t continue.
“This can’t go on year in and year out. We must find another solution,” she said.
“We’ve always maintained that Sweden has relied on holding people in remand centres to too great an extent.”
Seidlitz hoped that proposals soon to be put forward by the government commission examining the issue, but added that uncertainty about suggested solutions.
“We’ll just have to wait and see,” she said.