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EXPLAINED: Why does Sweden want to give police powers to seize foreigners’ ID?

Sweden's government last week announced plans to give Sweden's police and coastguards "increased powers to carry out internal ID checks on foreigners". What does this mean and should foreigners in Sweden be worried?

EXPLAINED: Why does Sweden want to give police powers to seize foreigners' ID?
Police in Sweden stop a small truck for an 'internal ID check'. Photo: Johan Nilsson / TT

What has the government actually announced? 

In a press release issued on July 5th, Sweden’s government said it aimed to “study the possibility of going ahead with proposals which will give the police and coast guard increased possibilities at so-called internal checks on foreigners to request the person’s passport and other ID documents and keep hold of those types of documents until the person gets permission to remain in Sweden or leaves the country.” 

The press release issued was quite vague, saying only that the government was considering coming back with a statement on taking the proposal further after the summer. This makes it look like the announcement was more a political measure, designed to make it look like it is taking action on reducing the number of immigrants in Sweden without a permit.

What is an ‘internal ID check on foreigners’? 

Because passports and other ID documents are not automatically checked at Sweden’s borders under the Schengen agreement, Sweden’s police are empowered under EU and Swedish law to carry out spot checks by asking people to provide passports and other ID documents to make sure foreigners are in the country legally. 

On their website, Sweden’s police describe ID checks on foreigners as “a compensatory measure within the Schengen area”. 

In this case, ‘internal’ means internal to the Schengen Area of countries, rather than internal to Sweden, so if police demand ID documents from passengers crossing over the bridge from Denmark, driving across from Norway or Finland, or arriving by ferry, that would still count as an internal check. 

However, under the law, police are empowered to check foreigners for ID anywhere they want to in Sweden. 

Why does the government want police to be able to seize ID documents when carrying out the checks? 

The government wants to cut down on the more than 12,500 people living in Sweden without a residence permit, and also to make it more difficult for people smugglers, and other criminals benefitting from illegal immigration. 

In the press release, Sweden’s migration minister Anders Ygeman argued that “a sustainable migration policy requires that we have control over who has the right to be in Sweden and who does not have that right.”

So do we know what ‘extra powers’ are being considered? 

A right to search baggage for ID documents. Today, police only have the powers to search foreigners or their baggage to look for identity documents or other evidence of who they are when they arrive in Sweden at the border.  A spokesman for the police said that this meant that police officers and the coast guard are “not entitled to search for a passport etc. when an individual cannot prove the right to reside in Sweden”.

A press officer at the justice ministry told The Local that the government hoped to change this. “The government considers that it is reasonable that such controls can also be carried out inside the country,” he wrote. 

A right to seize and confiscate ID documents. Under current legislation, police are only entitled to confiscate ID documents found on foreigners in a few situations, such as if the Migration Agency has already refused a residence permit and ordered them to be deported. “This situation makes the identification process more difficult, when the individual does not participate voluntarily to clarify their identity,” a police spokesman said. 

The government wants to increase police powers to confiscate ID documents. “In many cases,” the spokesman for the justice ministry said, “police cannot today seize the documents that they find and the government wants to look at the possibility of making them able to do so when it is appropriate.” 

A possibility to search phones, digital media and computers. Today police are only allowed to search a foreigner’s phone, laptop, emails or other digital media if there is suspicion that they have committed a crime. “The police authority has also presented the need of a regulation to confiscate and search digital media in an internal alien control, to investigate the identity and citizenship of a foreigner,” the spokesman wrote. “This is of special importance in situations when the foreigner cannot present any documents and refuse to participate.” 

A possibility to search people’s houses or apartments. As people living illegally in Sweden typically keep their documents where they live and do not carry them on them, Sweden’s police want the powers to raid their apartments or houses to search for documents, something which is not possible under current law. 

What’s the background to this? 

The government in March 2020 launched an utredning – the Swedish term for one of the investigations or inquiries which are the first stage of the formation of new legislation – titled “Measures for Areas near the Border”: 

In the conclusions of this investigation, published last November, the judge tasked with leading the inquiry, Stefan Reimer, proposed that police be empowered to seize identity documents “if it cannot be established that the alien is entitled to stay in Sweden, or if there is uncertainty concerning the alien’s identity”. 

How long could the government keep foreigners’ ID documents if they do seize them? 

The inquiry proposed that the authorities should be allowed to keep the documents long enough to be able to check that the foreigner has a residence permit, or is entitled to stay in Sweden for another reason. 

If the foreigner then turns out to be entitled to stay in Sweden, then their documents will be returned. If they are not, then they will only be returned if the foreigner either receives a permit to stay in Sweden, or leaves the country. 

This means that people living in Sweden irregularly now risk losing their passports or identity documents indefinitely unless they turn themselves in to the police to be deported. 

How do police know who is a foreigner and who is not when carrying out internal ID checks? 

Under current Swedish law, police need to have a reason which is “backed up” to carry out an internal ID check and they need to inform the foreigner of what that reason is. 

To prevent racial profiling, the current law specifically prohibits carrying out controls “based an appearance which is considered ‘foreign’, or on the basis of language or name”. 

When the check is made, police or the coastguard need to fill in a document giving the reason for the check, the time and place, who has been controlled, and who carried out the control. This document then needs to be checked to ensure the right procedures have been followed.  

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Sweden sees continued train delays following weekend storms

Train travel is still disrupted in some parts of Sweden following the storms which passed over the country during the weekend.

Sweden sees continued train delays following weekend storms
In Töreboda, Western Götland, repair work is still ongoing after a roof blown away in the storms pulled down an overhead line, leading to delays of between 15 to 20 minutes on the Gothenburg to Stockholm line, as well as delaying local train lines in the area.
One of the three tracks on the route has been open since Sunday night.
“But one stretch of track is running on reduced speeds of 70 kilometres an hour to protect those working nearby,” said Emanuel Alvarez, press information officer at the Swedish Transport Administration.
All tracks are expected to be back in use early on Wednesday morning.