How Norwegian World War Two refugees shaped Swedish migration policy

Ingrid P. Nuse/ScienceNordic
Ingrid P. Nuse/ScienceNordic - [email protected]
How Norwegian World War Two refugees shaped Swedish migration policy
German troops march through Oslo in 1940. Photo: Pressens Bild/Scanpix Sweden/TT

At the height of the Second World War, when Norwegian refugees first sought sanctuary in Sweden, they were sent back. The tide turned in the last years of the war, as Sweden reversed its policy, accepting these refugees. So what happened next?


Many who fled from Norway to Sweden during the first years of the Second World War ended up in a German concentration camp in Germany or in German captivity on Norwegian soil instead.

Swedish neutrality policy initially favored Germany. But during the war years – and especially in 1943 – Swedish politics swung toward the Allies.

Rejected refugees

Historian Lars Hansson has researched Norwegian refugees and Swedish refugee politics during the war years. His study turned into a doctorate at the University of Gothenburg.

From 1940 to 1942, many refugees from Norway were stopped right after they crossed the Swedish border.

Nor did Sweden want to deal with German deserters. Some ended up in German concentration camps and others ended up in prisoner of war camps in Norway. The punishment for deserters in Germany was severe: execution, imprisonment or service in German penal companies on the Eastern front.

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Locals took over

Hansson's research builds on previous studies of 33,000 interrogation protocols relating to refugees from Norway who came to the three Swedish border counties of Värmland, Dalsland and Bohuslän.

"The Swedish refugee policy went from being very restrictive at the beginning of the war, to eventually unconditionally admitting refugees from Norway during the later war years," says Hansson in a University of Gothenburg article.

Until the attack on Norway in April 1940, Swedish refugee policy had been a matter for the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and other central authorities in Stockholm. The Ministry had primarily been concerned with asylum for people who fled Germany and German-occupied countries further south.

But when Norwegian refugees began to cross the border in the west, the decision-making authority shifted to local representatives of the Swedish authorities along the border with Norway.

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Crucial importance

The border between Sweden and Norway is 1,630 kilometers long.

The refugees came across the border all the way from northern Norway and south to Eastern Norway. Significant resources were used in the 26 rural police districts on the Swedish side that were given responsibility for receiving refugees.

Local Swedish police officers along the border areas and public officials with police powers admitted the refugees when they crossed the border from Norway.

The Norwegian refugees were sent to transit centers and camps that the Swedes created for them during the war years.

Hansson believes that the many face-to-face meetings between the local Swedes and Norwegian refugees might explain why Swedish refugee policy changed so dramatically during the war years.

"These encounters were probably of crucial importance in opening up the restrictive policy," says Hansson.

The historian points out that the experience the Swedes gained from managing the Norwegian refugees enabled Sweden to handle the large refugee influx from Denmark, Finland and the Baltic states towards the end of the war.

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Search for names

In the digital National Archives of Norway you can now find the names of Norwegian refugees in Sweden, which contain over 40 000 names. Perhaps you'll discover some family members? You can read more at the National Archives.

This article was originally published on ScienceNordic


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