Thousands protest immigration controls

Over 3,000 people gathered in Swedish cities on Saturday to demonstrate against the clampdown on illegal migrants which has sparked accusations of "racial profiling" practices among the police.

Thousands protest immigration controls

An estimated 2,000 people gathered in the Kungsträdgården park in central Stockholm with banners, drums and whistles. There were speeches and performances on the park stage.

In Malmö, around 1,000 people marched from Möllevångstorget to Davidshallstorg, two squares in the city centre, reported regional newspaper Sydsvenskan.

There were also protests in Gothenburg and Uppsala, with several hundred participants according to local media reports.

The Stockholm demonstration was organized by Youth Against Racism (Ungdom mot Rasism) and by the youth associations of the Swedish Red Cross and Swedish Save the Children.

The demonstrators were protesting against the police’s methods for searching for undocumented migrants under the so-called Reva project, which stands for Rättssäkert och effektivt verkställighetsarbete (Legal and effective execution of policy) and is part-financed by the European Return Fund.

The aim is to increase the number of deportations of illegal immigrants, but Reva has come under fire in recent weeks, sparking heated debates and social media campaigns.

The criticism has mainly focused on the police’s ID controls in the Stockholm subway, with critics accusing the police of singling out foreign-looking people for controls and using vague grounds for stopping and searching commuters.

Swedish police are not allowed to stop and search individuals on the basis of their looks, names or the language they speak. In the subway, police have used suspicions of ticket violations as a pretence to stop people and check their IDs, critics claim.

“It is not OK to stop people in the subway just because they have dark hair and dark eyes,” one Stockholm demonstrator, 19-year-old Angelina Younadam, told newspaper Svenska Dagbladet (SvD).

“I know three people who have been stopped for no reason. My parents came to Sweden as refugees but I am born here and I am just as Swedish as everyone else and should not have to be violated,” said Angelina.

The police have denied that they are singling out foreign-looking people, but on Friday announced that border control officers would stop running ID checks on commuters in the underground as part of their effort to find and deport illegal immigrants.

The debate had taken too much effort, harming other operations, the police explained.

The Save the Children youth association described this as an important partial victory.

“It has strengthened our belief that it is possible to change and affect things as citizens in Sweden,” Sara Thiringer of the Save the Children youth association told SvD.

“But the border police will continue to search for undocumented migrants and the inhumane refugee policy will continue,” she added.

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Should refugees get only ‘temporary’ permits?

A proposal to offer only temporary residency for asylum seekers by Sweden's largest opposition party, the Moderates, was met with widespread criticism on Friday, including from its own youth wing.

Should refugees get only 'temporary' permits?
Moderate leader Anna Kinberg Batra presenting the proposal on Friday. Photo: Sören Andersson/TT

The centre-right Moderate party presented the controversial proposal at a press conference on Friday morning. A similar bid was flouted by the Christian Democrats in December last year, and also enjoys the support of Sweden's Liberal Party.

Most asylum seekers who arrive in Sweden would be entitled to temporary residency under the proposed plan.

The bid proposed replacing the current practice of offering permanent stays to refugees. However, the Moderates argued that permits could become permanent if the person landed paid employment, or after three years if a variety of conditions were met.

"The purpose is to improve the routes to getting established in society. If you have the right to asylum you will be given temporary residency and if you are offered work it could become permanent," Moderate party leader Anna Kinberg Batra told reporters on Friday.

The move strongly contrasts with the approach of her predecessor and former prime minister of Sweden, Fredrik Reinfeldt, who consistently defended permanent residency permits.

"If you're new in the country you should be set on staying," Reinfeldt told newspaper Dagens Nyheter in an interview at the end of 2014.

READ ALSO: Who's who in Swedish politics?

Sweden's asylum policies are a hot topic in the Nordic country, which accepts more refugees per capita than any other of its European neighbours. Anti-immigration party the Sweden Democrats became the third-biggest party in September's general election, scoring a record 12.9 percent of the vote.

The current centre-left government is in favour of keeping permanent permits.

Several commentators hit out at the Moderate's proposal on social media on Friday. The Swedish branch of children's rights organization Save the Children ('Rädda Barnen') wrote on Twitter: "Temporary residency permits? We have long been critical [of this]. A lot can happen in a child's life over the course of three years."

And a member of Sweden's Green Party, which is part of the ruling centre-left coalition with the Social Democrats, wrote: "Changing to temporary residency permits makes integration more difficult. It only leads to insecurity about whether or not you can start life here for real."

The Moderates, who are part of Sweden's right-wing Alliance alongside the Centre Party, the Liberals and the Christian Democrats, faced criticism from its own camp as well. The party's youth wing, 'Moderata ungdomsförbundet' (MUF), said it would fight the proposal.

"We should not meet people who are fleeing with the threat of going home. We should welcome them with jobs and integration. Europe gets better from greater openness and Sweden should not meet that by tightening the strap," MUF chairman Rasmus Törnblom told SVT.

But another member of the youth organization said she was in favour of the notion, tweeting: "Temporary residency permits are a responsible proposal. Sticking my neck out and congratulating M & my friends in MUF who support this."

Sweden became the first European country in 2013 to grant automatic residency to Syrian refugees and has since seen asylum requests rise to record levels, which are still expected to reach about 90,000 in 2015.

To cope with an increasing flow of refugees, the Swedish Migration Board announced in March that it was more than tripling the maximum number of residents allowed at asylum centres from 200 to 650.