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'Not the truth': Boss of Sweden's Migration Agency disputes Brexit deportation figures

Becky Waterton
Becky Waterton - [email protected]
'Not the truth': Boss of Sweden's Migration Agency disputes Brexit deportation figures
Mikael Ribbenvik, the Director General of the Swedish Migration Agency, said that the Eurostat figures on the deportation of people from Britain were highly misleading. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT

In an interview with The Local for our Sweden in Focus podcast, the outgoing head of Sweden's Migration Agency argued Sweden's high Brexit deportation figures don't tell the full story and claimed Covid travel rules were partly to blame for the high number of Britons ordered to leave.


As The Local has previously reported, figures from EU statistics agency Eurostat show that Sweden has told 1,100 Brits to leave the country since Brexit, more than any other EU country, representing 41 percent of the total number of Brits ordered to leave across the EU.

'Not the truth'

Mikael Ribbenvik, the outgoing Director General of the the migration agency claimed, however, that these figures gave a false impression of the actual number of Brits given deportation orders following the UK's formal exit from the EU.

"Eurostat does not equal the truth," he said. "It depends on what you report. Some countries don't report, that's the first thing. Sweden always reports very obediently."

"When you read the papers, the story takes on its own life," he added.

Ribbenvik estimated that of the 1,100 cases reported to Eurostat, only around 200 fitted the description of "people living here that don't get a permit and have to return to the UK". 

He claimed that many of of the Britons who had been ordered to leave had, for instance, fallen foul of Covid travel rules. 

"The rest are like, you come to the passport control in Arlanda and you don't have your Covid thing, and the police says 'we won't let you in'. I mean, we report everything."


Ribbenvik's statement drew anger from the Brits in Sweden group.

David Milstead from the group said: "Mr Ribbenvik has given a big ‘nothing to see’ statement which, unfortunately, doesn’t match the evidence base... which shows Sweden to be an outlier among EU countries."

Milstead highlighted Sweden's efforts to deport Kathleen Poole, an elderly British lady with Alzheimer's disease who was ordered to leave Sweden as she did not have a post-Brexit residence permit.

"We don’t see old ladies with dementia issued with deportation in other countries, nor pensioners forced to leave after a decade because their income was too low," Milstead said.

The Local previously reported that the Eurostat figures include both people ordered to leave due to mistakes or lacking immigration paperwork, such as those who failed to apply for post-Brexit residence status to secure their rights to live in Sweden under EU law by the deadline, as well as those who were deported for other reasons, such as recently released prisoners.

However, EU countries did not provide data on the number of Brits rejected for each reason, and Swedish border police and the Migration Agency were unable to provide this data to The Local when we contacted them in January 2023.

In addition to this, Ribbenvik said that the data does not only measure Brits rejected from entering Sweden or ordered to leave Sweden, but also people of other nationalities attempting to enter Sweden from the UK.

"It's not even only UK citizens, it's people arriving from the UK," he said.

"So you could have a person arriving from wherever - China, Bangladesh, Somalia - residing in the UK, coming to the Swedish border, not having the correct Covid document. The police say 'we won't let you in', and that's a mark in the statistic."

He admitted that there were cases where Brits had been issued deportation orders due to not applying for post-Brexit residence status in time, and said that his understanding was that Eurostat was planning to reassess the statistics to understand the real picture.

"Then of course, another thing is that some of our dear friends in the EU don't care much about implementing their own rules," he added. "And we always do, so there's that aspect."


'Swedes are loyal to legislation, even when the consequences are silly'

Ribbenvik explained in the context of a question on talent deportations that Swedes are "very loyal to legislation, even when the consequences are silly," adding that asking for an exception in an individual case is tantamount to asking them to break the law.

"It's very difficult - or impossible - to explain that in the individual case. On the aggregate level, everybody agrees. 'Should we follow the law? Yes, of course.' But when it comes to the individual cases it's 'have some reason here', or 'have a heart', or 'what if it was your kid?', or all these things."

"But all those things actually mean 'can you please not follow the law?' and we will never do that."

In some high-profile Brexit deportation cases, British politicians have called for Sweden or even the EU to step in and stop the deportation of affected individuals.

One of these is the case mentioned above of 74-year-old Kathleen Poole, who arrived in Sweden under EU rules 18 years ago. 

British Labour MP Hilary Benn, former chair of the UK's House of Commons Brexit select committee, called on the UK and the EU to intervene to stop Poole's deportation order, describing it to The Guardian as "shocking".

"A lot of countries are like that," Ribbenvik said. "You go to your dictator and he fixes it. But there are also drawbacks in those societies."


'Some people just didn't take the measures they had to'

When asked about cases of people who were told to leave Sweden despite having lived here for many years before Brexit, Ribbenvik said that the Migration Agency had worked "very, very closely" with the British Embassy to reach out to all Brits in Sweden, describing Sweden and the UK as "best buddies in the EU" before Brexit.

"We worked very hard to say 'there's a window, and these are the things you need to do'. 'It's not the same, you will be third country citizens, you need to get permits', and we tried to reach every corner everywhere to have this done. And almost everybody made it."

He described the roughly 200 cases of Brits who didn't get post-Brexit residence status in time as "very different", adding that many boiled down to a failure to act. 

"Some people just didn't care to take the measures that they had to do."

Unlike in Denmark, where Brits were sent letters by the Danish Migration Agency telling them to apply for residency, Sweden did not contact individual Brits informing them that they have to apply.

Ribbenvik said he did not believe that it would have made a difference to the number of rejected Brits if Sweden had done so.

"No. I mean, Brexit was well known among Brits. I'm very sure it was. So, no."

"I think it's just a massive case of underestimation for some people who just assumed 'I don't have to do anything'. But if you look at how Swedish society runs, this is nothing unusual. I mean, everything you have to do, you have to do it yourself. Agencies won't send a letter to you 'hello, you need to do this and that'. That's how it works'."


Ribbenvik explained that if you want something in Sweden, you have to contact an agency to ask for it, and the agency will decide whether to approve or deny your request.

"Maybe it would have been good to send a letter, maybe we should have done that, but then it's more a question of 'who is responsible for things'?"

"I don't want to sound like a total evil person here, but I don't know. If I lived in another country and something changed, I'd check it. I'd go on a page that's pertaining to me. The information is one click away. It's not a secret. So if you go 'well, I thought there was no problem and nobody told me', you're a bit oblivious, I think."

Bits in Sweden David Milstead said Ribbenvik's "doubling down" on his defence of Sweden's efforts to help Brits was "unfortunate but not surprising".

"That the authorities were 'trying to reach every corner' only works as an argument if Mr Ribbenvik thinks Brits live in a circle," he said.

"It was a very lucky Brit who encountered any outreach from the Swedish authorities, despite Sweden’s legal obligation to run a campaign. Brits that did contact Migrationsverket frequently received misleading or wrong responses."


'Life isn't over for you'

Ribbenvik underlined the fact that Brits in general contribute to society in his opinion, and this wasn't part of any conspiracy to force them out of the country.

"There's not many problems with Brits in Sweden, right? So we really wanted everybody to stay. Let's not confuse this with an idea that we wanted to get rid of some people. We wanted people to stay, there was information on this, there was a lot of information available, so it's very sad."

"I mean, life isn't over for you, you can apply as a third country citizen, so then you have to have the hassle of that. That's the consequence."

Listen to the interview with Mikael Ribbenvik

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GB 2023/05/08 13:14
The Swedes are very law-abiding which makes problems for people like the English who sometimes think they are somehow special and can just ignore it and be given special treatment. An advantage of living in an advanced society is that everything is transparent and on online and makes everything very easy indeed. I moved from the UK to Sweden and did everything as required and I was approved and sent a passport within 2 weeks.
ANDREW PAGE 2023/05/05 20:22
He really should have been challenged more on these responses. Most of them are blatantly false/misleading and with no supporting data.

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