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Swedish government announces decision on refugee minors

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Swedish government announces decision on refugee minors
Swedes demonstrating in Gothenburg against the deportation of unaccompanied minors. Photo: Thomas Johansson / TT
15:21 CET+01:00
The Swedish government has reached a compromise which will mean many unaccompanied minors get the chance to stay in Sweden.

Minors who arrived in Sweden before November 24th 2015 – when Sweden's temporary tighter asylum rules came into effect – who waited more than 15 months to get their application processed and turned 18 in the meantime will have the right to have their case reassessed in order to finish school in Sweden, the government said on Monday.

Representatives from the Social Democrats and Green Party made the announcement on Monday afternoon, though they said that parliament would have to approve the proposal before it came into effect. The law is expected to come into effect by summer 2018 if parliament gives it the green light.

"We know that there are many people in many parties who see this problem, so we expect that there will be a desire to solve this in many parties," said Gustav Fridolin, Green Party spokesperson.

His colleague Isabella Lövin said that the proposal would apply to "most people" who applied for asylum before November 24th 2015, but Migration Minister Heléne Fritzon said it was difficult to give a precise figure as to how many would be affected.

Alexandra Segenstedt, a senior adviser on migration policy at the Swedish Red Cross, told the TT newswire: "This will hopefully bring more security and the possibility to stay in Sweden, but we can see that there are many people who won't be affected."

"We had hoped that they would look at the consequences this law has had in a more serious way before taking this decision," she added, referring to the temporary asylum law introduced in 2015.

The issue of unaccompanied minors who applied for asylum in Sweden has divided the government. One of the major issues is that slow processing times by the Migration Agency meant that many of those who arrived in Sweden as minors turned 18 during the months spent waiting for an asylum decision.

This means that they were processed as adults rather than minors, who can only be deported if family members or other guardians can give them a home.

The Green Party has said that these people should have the chance of a reassessment, due to the long waiting times, however the Social Democrats have been reluctant to agree to this.

In 2015, around 31,000 unaccompanied minors applied for asylum before the tighter rules were introduced in November, of which 28,400 have received a decision. Of those, a slim majority (13,400) have been allowed to stay in Sweden, while 11,500 have been rejected and the remaining 2,700 have had their cases cancelled, for example if the application was withdrawn.

Of the 11,500 whose applications were rejected, 2,150 were aged under 18 when they received the decision.

In October this year, the Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights called on Sweden to improve its asylum laws and “move beyond emergency mode”, particularly in cases involving unaccompanied minors. 

One of the main groups affected are minors from Afghanistan, after Sweden's Migration Agency declared many parts of the country safe enough for people to return to. Several deportation flights have already taken off, returning minors to Afghanistan, despite protests from several groups including Amnesty International, which said the deportations went against international law and should be stopped immediately.

Hundreds of young Afghans staged a weeks-long sit-down protest in central Stockholm earlier this year. They were joined by hundreds of members of the public, and Swedish teachers also protested the planned deportations. The Local spent 24 hours with the protesters.

READ ALSO: 24 hours on Stockholm's streets with refugee protesters 

Following the protests, Sweden's parliament debated once again how to respond, with the Social Democrats dismissing the demands, but the Green Party arguing that the refugees should be given a chance.

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