Asylum seekers’ hunger strike growing in Sweden

Eleven Afghanis and Iranians have gone on hunger strike in the north of Sweden after their asylum applications were turned down.

Six people from Afghanistan and Iran went on hunger strike on Sunday in an asylum seekers’ residence managed by the Swedish Migration Board (Migrationsverket) in Holmsund, Västerbotten county.

On Thursday, five Afghani men started a hunger strike protest outside the offices of the Migration Board in Boden, Norbotten county.

The Afghani men in Boden have taped their mouths shut to demonstrate that they are refusing to eat or drink, reported local newspaper Norrländska Socialdemokraten (NSD).

They have been in Sweden between two and four years but recently received notice that they will not be granted the right to remain.

“They are prepared to keep up their hunger strike until they get residence permits or until they die,” said Ajmal Zadran, a spokesman for the Afghanis.

There are between 100 and 150 Afghanis in Boden and Zadran said that more men are prepared to join the hunger strike.

The six Afghani and Iranian asylum seekers in Holmsund are also protesting against their deportation orders. Two of them were taken to hospital late Thursday night as their condition worsened, reported Sveriges Television (SVT).

The Migration Board called in extra staff to the asylum seekers’ residence in Holmsund.

“We are doing so in order to ensure that nothing goes wrong,” Migration Board spokesman Fredrik Bengtsson told news agency TT.

According to Bengtsson, the Migration Board is well aware of the current situation in Afghanistan and said that is why around 75 percent of Afghani asylum seekers are granted residence permits in Sweden.

“But we have to make individual judgements,” said Bengtsson. There is no general need of protection for Afghanis. You still need to be under personal threat [to be granted asylum] and many are,” he said.

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‘The idea is to convert permanent residency into Swedish citizenship,’ Migration minister says

Sweden's Migration Minister has responded to criticism of the government's proposal to abolish permanent residency, telling an interviewer that the hope is that holders will gain full citizenship rather than get downgraded to temporary status.

'The idea is to convert permanent residency into Swedish citizenship,' Migration minister says

“The main idea behind the [Tidö] agreement is that we should convert permanent residency to citizenship,” Maria Malmer Stenergard, from the right-wing Moderate Party, told the Svenska Dagbladet newspaper.”You should not be here forever on a permanent residence permit. A clear path to citizenship is needed.”

I envision that you will receive individual plans for how to achieve this,” she continued. “Learn the language, earn a living, and have knowledge of Swedish society, so that you can fully become a Swedish citizen.” 

Malmer Stenergard said it was still unclear whether a planned government inquiry into the possibility of “converting…existing permanent residence permits” would also open the way for those who have been given a permanent right to live in the country to be downgraded to a temporary residency permit. 

“We’ll have to look at that,” she said. “There is a problem with positive administrative decisions and changing them, which the Migration Agency’s director general Mikael Ribbenvik has been aware of. We also state in the Tidö Agreement that basic principles of administrative law shall continue to apply.” 

READ ALSO: What do we know about Sweden’s plans to withdraw permanent residency?

In the Tidö Agreement, the deal between the far-right Sweden Democrats and the three government parties, it says that “asylum-related residence permits should be temporary and the institution of permanent residence permits should be phased out to be replaced by a new system based on the immigrant’s protection status”.

It further states that “an inquiry will look into the circumstances under which existing permanent residence permits can be converted, for example through giving affected permit holders realistic possibilities to gain citizenship before a specified deadline. These changes should occur within the framework of basic legal principles.”

Malmer Stenergard stressed that the government would only retroactively reverse an administrative decision (over residency) if a way can be found to make such a move compatible with such principles. 

“This is why we state in the Tidö Agreement that basic principles of administrative law must apply,” she said. 

She said the government had not yet come to a conclusion on what should happen to those with permanent residency who either cannot or are unwilling to become Swedish citizens. 

“We’re not there yet, but of course we’re not going to be satisfied with people just having an existing permanent residency, which in many cases has been granted without any particularly clear demands, if they don’t then take the further steps required for citizenship.” 

This did not mean, however, that those with permanent residency permits should be worried, she stressed. 

“If your ambition is to take yourself into Swedish society, learn the language, become self-supporting, and live according to our norms and values, I think that there’s a very good chance that you will be awarded citizenship.” 

She said that even if people couldn’t meet the requirements for citizenship, everyone with permanent residency should at least have “an individual plan for how they are going to become citizens”, if they want to stay in Sweden. 

When it comes to other asylum seekers, however, she said that the government’s aim was for residencies to be recalled more often. 

“We want to find a way to let the Migration Agency regularly reassess whether the grounds for residency remain. The aim is that more residencies should be recalled, for example, if a person who is invoking a need of asylum or other protection then goes back to their home country for a holiday.”