Numbers from EU statistical office Eurostat show that among EU Member States with more than 1,000 asylum seekers considered to be unaccompanied minors during 2016, the largest decrease was recorded in Sweden, with over 33,000 fewer applications compared to 2015.
The Nordic nation saw a huge decrease in those applicants of 94 percent, more than Hungary (down 86 percent), Belgium (down 64 percent) and the Netherlands (down 56 percent).
Greece, by comparison, saw its number of asylum seekers considered to be unaccompanied minors increase by 460 percent in 2016 (1,900 more than 2015), while Germany saw a 61 percent increase (13,700 more).
In January, Swedish Migration Agency (Migrationsverket) General Director Mikael Ribbenvik explained that it is now very difficult for unaccompanied minors to reach Sweden:
“It can be explained by the fact that children very often lack ID. It's now difficult to get through without ID at every border control there is in Europe.”
Earlier this month Sweden announced it was ending ID checks on bus, train and ferry crossings with Denmark in favour of tighter border control spot-checks. Migrationsverket says it is too early to tell if the changes have impacted the number of asylum seekers coming to the country.
Unaccompanied minor asylum applicants in Sweden accounted for three percent of all of those registered in the EU last year. That's less than Greece (four percent of the total), Bulgaria (four percent), the UK (five percent), Austria (six percent), Italy (ten percent) and Germany (57 percent).
Lone children made up 20.2 percent of asylum applications from under 18s in Sweden during 2016. That's a significantly lower share than the UK, where they accounted for 33.9 percent, Denmark (49.1 percent) and Italy (53.9 percent). Slovenia had the highest proportion with 57.1 percent.
The majority of asylum applications from unaccompanied minors in EU Member States last year came from Afghans (38 percent) and Syrians (19 percent). Nearly two thirds of Afghan unaccompanied minors were registered in Germany (15,000).
Sweden has been criticised for its handling of unaccompanied refugee children in recent months. In March, an organization tasked with representing the rights of children in Sweden released a report stating that the support provided to children during the asylum process in the country is often inadequate.
The Ombudsman for Children (BO) highlighted the long wait for the children to be appointed a legal guardian in Sweden, sometimes taking up to seven months. The organization has previously raised concerns that refugee children in Sweden are using online forums to plan mass suicides, and are not always receiving the care they need for mental illness.