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Swedish migration minister open to asylum 'hubs' outside EU

Becky Waterton
Becky Waterton - [email protected]
Swedish migration minister open to asylum 'hubs' outside EU
Swedish migration minister Maria Malmer Stenergard at a press conference in early February. Photo: Samuel Steén/TT

Sweden's migration minister, Maria Malmer Stenergard, has said she is in discussions with other countries about setting up a system which will see those who have had their asylum applications rejected sent to "return hubs" in countries outside the European Union.


"People who have received a legal decision which for whatever reason cannot be carried out with regards to their country of origin will be placed there [in the hub]," she told Sweden's public broadcaster SR in an interview on Saturday.

Malmer Stenergard did not go into detail about which countries Sweden could potentially send rejected asylum seekers to if this were to become law, mentioning only that she is in discussion with “a group of European countries, not least the Nordic countries.”

Denmark has previously discussed opening asylum centres in Rwanda, a plan which it has now suspended in favour of working together with other EU countries to establish centres outside the EU.

However, she said that the discussions were at an early stage and that, in her opinion, the idea faced problems which had so far proven difficult to overcome. 

"It is important that this is realistic as well. So far when various variants of solutions involving third countries have been discussed, it hasn't worked in practice." 

Perhaps alluding to the failed attempts by the UK and Denmark to send asylum seekers to Rwanda, she said that when countries have "discussed outsourcing their whole asylum process" to countries outside the EU, "it has hit nothing but barriers". 

If such a solution were to be possible, she continued, "I am convinced that it would be much better if this were something the EU did together." 

Elsewhere in the interview, Malmer Stenergard said that the government was determined to make sure that those refused asylum in Sweden leave the country as soon as possible.  

“This might sound like we’re being very harsh, but primarily it’s about our resources, our shared resources, which should be going towards helping those who actually need protection," she said. 

It would also, she added, send “clear signals” that people refused asylum would not be able to “complicate the situation” and thereby be able to stay in Sweden despite receiving an order to leave.

“There’s a clear responsibility for individuals to follow an order to leave and actually leave the country.”

Currently, she said, the statute of limitations on orders to leave is just four years, meaning that if someone manages to stay in Sweden for four years without returning to their home country they are eligible to reapply for asylum, even if their first application was rejected.

“A quarter of people applying for asylum today are people who previously had their asylum applications rejected,” she added. “That’s a completely absurd situation which also undermines regulated immigration.”

Overhaul of the asylum system could 'force' refugees to live in centres

Sweden’s government is also working on an overhaul of Sweden’s asylum system, which would among other things scrap the EBO (eget boende or ‘own housing’) system which allows asylum seekers to live anywhere in the country.

“We want to offer everyone a place in a refugee centre, as well as have legislation in place to force people to live in refugee centres,” Malmer Stenergard said.

This, she said, was one of the reasons the government has no plans to raise the daily allowance for asylum seekers from 71 kronor a day, as more of their daily costs would be covered by the state.


“[In the asylum centres], you get both food and accommodation, so there’s not the same need for an allowance. So we’re choosing a completely different model.”

This could also include a stipulation that refugees must stay in a specific area, risking their asylum application if they refuse to do so.

“This is because we see a huge issue with people who deviate from the asylum process so we don’t know where they are,” she said.

“It should also be in their own interest to be in close contact with the authorities so their situation can be evaluated and their reasons for asylum and their identity can be assessed in a good way.”

For people who have not yet had a decision on their case, Malmer Stenergard said, it is “not about locking them up”, but they could, for example, be told to remain within a specific county or geographical area.

Asylum seekers who have had their application rejected could be placed in a closed facility, she added, but only if there is a risk that they may deviate from their decision.

“I want them to live there for as short a time as possible, but obviously this depends on the situation in each individual case,” Malmer Stenergard said.

In some cases, the country in question refuses to accept asylum seekers issued an order to leave, or the person in question refuses to comply with their deportation order, meaning that they must live in a return migration facility in Sweden for months or even years. It is people in this situation who could theoretically be sent to centres outside the EU in the future.

“There is an intensive situation ongoing within the EU about how this issue could be solved, but it requires finding different countries which we could cooperate with where there is a secure and just way of handling this, and we’re not there yet.”


Does this new immigration policy make immigrants already in the country feel less welcome?

Not according to Malmer Stenergard.

“I get that question a lot,” she said, “and actually I disagree, as my experience is that when I meet people who have immigrated here and fought hard to break into Swedish society, that they are enormously worried about the segregation, criminality and hopelessness which we see with this exclusion.”

“We have a responsibility to change the direction of how this is developing, and there’s no way we can do that if we still have extremely high asylum migration which we cannot control.” 


“That’s why my part of the government’s work is so important to create the foundations for better integration, and make sure that the people who stay also get a real future here and can grow here as human beings.”

Malmer Stenergard, from the Moderates, rejected the suggestion that her party shares the same migration policy as the Sweden Democrats.

“We have different starting viewpoints on the issue. For me, immigration is absolutely crucial for Sweden’s future. But we agree that immigration has not been working and that we need to have more control. I think this is an enormous strength, and that we have good cooperation and work together well in a way which Sweden needs.”


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