Doubts over asylum seekers’ age claims

Doubts over asylum seekers' age claims
Roughly 12 percent of asylum seekers who arrived in Sweden this year claiming to be children may actually be over 18-years-old, migration authorities have revealed using a new assessment that has prompted criticism from children's rights groups.

During the first four months of 2013, 930 unaccompanied minors came to Sweden seeking asylum, Sveriges Radio (SR) reported on Tuesday.

However, the Swedish Migration Board (Migraitonsverket) estimates that up to 12 percent of the young people who claimed to be children are actually over the age of 18.

The estimate comes following the use of a new age verification method considered scientifically based and suitable by the National Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen).

In cases where migration officials have doubts about the age claims of young asylum seekers, a medical assessment is now employed during which the wrists, teeth, and skeleton are x-rayed and a doctor is called in to provide an additional opinion.

However, the new assessment has sparked criticism from Save the Children (Rädda Barnen) in Sweden, which believes children’s own accounts about their age should carry weight.

“When there are doubts, we believe they should first trust the child’s explanation,” Mikaela Hagan, who works with refugee and migration issues at Save the Children, told SR.

Oskar Ekblad, head of the asylum assessment division at Migrationsverket, explained that one can’t completely rule out that someone is a child, even with the new methods.

“We’re working toward a burden of proof according to Swedish law. In this case, the requirement is that it should be probable and it’s the person who is seeking asylum who should make an issue probable,” he said.

Asylum seekers who are judged to be children have access to a number of advantages, including their reasons for remaining in Sweden receiving more weight and an increase chance of placement in many Swedish municipalities.

TT/The Local/dl

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