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Sweden Democrats: 'We've been too generous on asylum for too long'

Richard Orange
Richard Orange - [email protected]
Sweden Democrats: 'We've been too generous on asylum for too long'
The Sweden Democrats' migration spokesperson, Ludvig Aspling, argues that decades of loose migration policy mean Sweden now needs a policy as strict as possible under EU law. Photo: Caisa Rasmussen/TT

Sweden's asylum rules have been too generous for too long, the immigration spokesperson for the far-right Sweden Democrats has told The Local as the government launches an inquiry into tightening them to the strictest level allowable under EU law.


Last week, the government appointed Josephine Boswell, a judge and former Sweden Democrat government official, to lead a two-year inquiry, titled "Adapting the Swedish legal framework on granting asylum to the minimum level under EU law". 

The inquiry is "perhaps the most important" single element of the far-right Sweden Democrats' programme for this parliament, Ludvig Aspling, who has served as the party's immigration spokesperson since 2021, told The Local. 

"It's a very broad spectrum inquiry, so I would say that it's probably one of the biggest and probably one of the most work intensive as well."

The most controversial questions Boswell is being asked to consider are, firstly, how permanent residency can be taken back from those awarded it on the basis of asylum, and, secondly, how to recall asylum status from people who are no longer under threat in their home countries. 

Aspling said that Sweden had no choice but to have an unusually restrictive asylum policy if it hoped to counteract the results of the overly open policy the Sweden Democrats argue it has had in place for decades. The party is not a member of the government, but collaborates closely with it on policy as part of the so-called Tidö Agreement formed between it and the three government parties after the election.

"We have to be at the legal minimum because we were at European maximum for so many years and we still are," he said. "The Swedish framework for asylum seekers is very, very generous." 


Abolishing permanent residency for asylum

In an interview with The Local in November last year, Sweden's migration minister, Maria Malmer Stenergard, said that it was unclear whether it would be possible under Swedish, let alone EU law, to take away permanent residency permits which had already been awarded.

But Aspling was in no doubt that Boswell's inquiry would find legal means to do so: "Of course it's possible. Why would we waste time on it if it wasn't possible? We have a lot of stuff to do. It would make zero sense to work on something if it wasn't legally possible." 

Given that the reforms assessed under the inquiry relate to asylum policy rather than labour migration, foreign professionals awarded permanent residency after coming to Sweden to work would not be affected. 

"I think most of your readership will be okay," he said, when The Local mentioned the concerns expressed by members over permanent residency. "The political agreement we have is that people who have come as professionals, who have residence permits on the grounds of work, will retain their permanent permits, and the people who have come as asylum seekers will not." 


Those who received permanent residency after being granted asylum and could still not meet the requirements for citizenship despite years living in Sweden had not, he argued, earned the right to remain in the country, claiming that some even returned for holidays and family visits to the countries from which they claimed to be fleeting.  

"It's obvious that most people don't have any need for international protection, and if that's the case, I think they should go back. If you don't have a job, if you live off of public benefits, then you shouldn't be here. You should leave," he said.

Sweden's government in December ordered the Migration Agency to improve its efforts to recall temporary residency permits from people who had been awarded them on false grounds. Migration Minister Maria Malmer Stenergard then said in April that there was evidence that some people with asylum returned voluntarily for holidays to their home countries shortly after being granted asylum.  


Withdrawing asylum status 

The inquiry will also look into how to withdraw asylum status from refugees if the situation in their home country improves, after which they would lose their grounds for a residency permit, and have to return home.

The Danish Immigration Service, Aspling argued, had been right to withdraw residency permits from Syrians now that its migration authorities have ruled most areas in the country are safe. This should be possible, he added, for any country where some areas are safe, even if the exact region where a refugee comes from remains dangerous. 

"If there's one place that is safe – for example, the capital city, which is in most instances is the safest place in unstable countries – then that's perfectly fine, even if they come from some other province or city," he said.

The Syrians who are currently living in deportation centres in Denmark because Syria does not accept involuntary repatriation should not, he argued, be considered victims. "They're stuck of their own volition. They could just hop on a flight and go back," he said.

The decision of the Danish Immigration Service was sharply criticised by rights groups with the then immigration minister Mattias Tesfaye hauled up in front of the EU Parliament for a dressing down


Making asylum process faster and less costly

The inquiry will also look at making the asylum process itself faster and less costly to the Swedish taxpayer by, for instance, bringing in an accelerated process for cases which are "obviously groundless" and putting stricter limits on the right to an interpreter. 

Aspling said that Sweden was unusual in not taking advantage of the opportunities offered under EU law to have an accelerated process for groundless cases, leading to money and time being wasted on frivolous applications. 

"Let's, for example, say that you are a person who lives in Sweden illegally and you work on a construction site and the Migration Agency or the police find you and say, 'Oh, wow, you don't have a work permit. What are you doing working here?' And the person says, 'Oh, I want to claim asylum', and the person comes from a country where there's no war and no reason why he would want to flee.

"I mean, obviously this is a case where you're just using the asylum instrument to delay deportation. There's a lot of that stuff going on. Abuse of this system is rampant."

Aspling said that Germany's migration authority had set up an expedited system for claims from people in the Balkan countries, where cases had to be handled within days. 

"This is very common in Europe. Most countries use that kind of expedited system for claims that are obviously unfounded. And I think we should do the same thing. There's no point in paying hundreds of thousands [of kronor] for a process when you know that the claim is unfounded."

Sweden's current guidelines for translators were also too generous and open to abuse, with asylum seekers able to demand a translator in situations only loosely related to their case, he said.  

"Right now, if you just show up at the Migration Agency and say, 'I would like my own apartment, or I'd like more money, or I'd like my cousin to show up here next week, give him a visa', then they have to give you a translator, even when you're making claims that are unfounded or unnecessary or that are completely outside of the process," he said. 

"Right now, the number of hours is unlimited. So is it reasonable to have hundreds of hours for translation for a very simple case?"


How good is cooperation with government parties? 

Aspling conceded that there were reforms the Sweden Democrats had wanted the inquiry to look into that that had not in the end been included, but he said that as a whole the inquiry was "a fair compromise". 

"Obviously, there's been a little bit of a back and forth, but we all stand behind the text, and I'm happy with that," he said. "There could have been more in there. There could also have been less in there. So everything's kind of a trade-off." 

It was hard for him, he said, to judge how smooth the Sweden Democrats' relations were with the three government parties, as neither he, nor his party, had been in a position to work inside government on actual legislation. 

"It's very hard for me to answer. Because I've never been part of any other coalition government. You'll have to come back maybe after the next parliamentary period and ask me, 'is it more smooth now than it was before?'" 

The learning curve for the far-right party had been steep for the first six months after the government took power, he admitted, but the experience had been positive. 

"I've been working in parliament for a few years and I've been elected for a while now, and of course it's super interesting to see how the whole thing actually works on the inside," he said. "And now that we know how things work on the inside, obviously it's going to make us much stronger." 


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