Last Updated: Friday, 17 November 2017, 15:16 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2001 - Sweden

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 20 June 2001
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2001 - Sweden , 20 June 2001, available at: [accessed 19 November 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

At the end of 2000, Sweden hosted more than 18,500 refugees and asylum seekers. These included 10,833 asylum seekers with pending asylum claims, 480 persons granted asylum during the year, 1,140 persons granted residence on protection grounds, at least 4,700 persons (primarily Kosovo Albanians) with temporary protection, and 1,501 refugees admitted from overseas.

During 2000, 16,303 persons applied for asylum in Sweden, 31 percent more than in the previous year. The largest groups came from Bosnia (4,244), Iraq (3,499), and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (2,055). Others came from Iran, Russia, Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia, and Belarus. Some 412 asylum seekers were stateless persons.

Of particular note was the growing number of asylum seekers from Bosnia, particularly later in the year, with 978 Bosnians arriving in November and 1,305 in December. Some 26 percent of all asylum applicants in 2000 were from Bosnia (4,244), up from 4 percent in 1999. Since 1992, nearly 54,000 Bosnians have received residence permits in Sweden on various grounds.

The increase in 2000 may have been due in part to a precedent-setting decision in July, when the Swedish government granted residence on humanitarian grounds to a Bosnian family who had been in Germany for more than four years. In doing so, the government decided that some Bosnian asylum seekers in Sweden should not be returned to Germany under the Dublin Convention (see box, p. 194). The government said Germany and Sweden implement different policies with regard to the return of Bosnians to home regions where they would be in the minority.

The Swedish Migration Board, the first-instance decision-making authority, issued 15,972 asylum decisions during the year. Of those, it recognized 343 persons (two percent) as refugees under the UN Refugee Convention, while granting residence permits to another 1,057 persons (seven percent) on "protection" grounds and to 5,590 persons (35 percent) on humanitarian grounds. It rejected any form of protection for 8,982 persons (56 percent). At year's end, 10,833 applications were pending a first-instance decision.

At the appeals level, the Alien Appeals Board (AAB) recognized 137 persons as refugees and granted residence to 83 persons in need of protection and to 1,835 persons on humanitarian grounds. It rejected 5,050 applications, of which 1,928 were from persons who had submitted new applications to the appeals board.

The Aliens Act defines persons "in need of protection" as those with a well-founded fear of facing the death penalty, corporal punishment, torture, or other cruel and inhuman treatment or punishment; those who cannot return to their country of origin because of environmental disaster or armed conflict; or those with a well-founded fear of persecution because of their gender or homosexuality. (The Aliens Act does not permit decision-makers to consider gender as a social group for the purposes of recognizing someone as a refugee under the UN Refugee Convention; however, Sweden has initiated a process to review the handling of gender-based asylum claims.)

The Aliens Act does not define "humanitarian grounds," other than to say that a residence permit may be issued to someone who, for humanitarian reasons, should be allowed to settle in Sweden. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), persons who have been granted residence on humanitarian grounds include those with strong links to Sweden, persons who are old or infirm, and unaccompanied children. The U.S. Committee for Refugees (USCR) does not count such persons as refugees or asylum seekers in Sweden.

In August, the Migration Board advised the government that it would need to increase police surveillance of aliens in border areas when the Schengen Convention entered into force in Sweden in March 2001 (see box, p. 194). The board said quick identification of genuine asylum seekers would prevent the misuse of the right to asylum and reduce the risk of asylum seekers being exploited.

Asylum Procedure

All asylum applications are submitted directly to the Migration Board. Negative first-instance decisions may be appealed to the AAB, which can refer cases to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Migration Board can refer cases directly to the ministry when the government's decision sets a precedent for a large group of asylum seekers.

The AAB issues an expulsion order along with any negative decision. If the expulsion order remains unfulfilled for four years, it expires. The asylum seeker may again apply for a residence permit if the failure to implement the expulsion order was not the asylum seeker's fault. Rejected asylum seekers may seek financial assistance from the Migration Board for voluntary repatriation.

In March, the Migration Board requested additional government funds for handling asylum applicants who were expected to arrive over the new Oresund Bridge joining Denmark and Sweden. Because of the bridge, the board predicted the number of asylum seekers would increase by at least 4,600 persons annually. Previously, those who arrived by ferry could be returned to Denmark immediately.

During 2000, the government considered proposals to change the asylum determination system significantly. If enacted, the proposals would abolish the AAB (in favor of an administrative court) and make the determination procedure more adversarial.

Assistance and Integration

Since 1994, asylum seekers have had the right to live with relatives or friends while awaiting asylum decisions. Roughly half of all asylum seekers reside in government-funded housing while their applications are processed. The government grants monthly allowances to applicants without other means of support. Asylum seekers whose asylum applications are expected to take longer than four months to process may receive work permits.

The Swedish Board of Integration sponsors language training, job placement, and housing programs.

Temporary Protection

During 2000, Sweden granted temporary protection to 596 persons, mainly from Yugoslavia (266), Somalia (131), and Iraq (111). In addition, some 4,000 Kosovars remained in Sweden under temporary protection at the end of the year. Sweden established a legislative system of temporary protection in July 1994 to cover persons not eligible for refugee or de facto status (now defined as "in need of protection" under the amended Aliens Act). Under 1997 amendments, Sweden may also grant such status in situations of mass flight.

Temporary protection is granted initially for two years with the possibility of renewal for another two years as long as the recipients have begun preparing to return to their home countries.

Persons granted temporary protection are entitled to work and to bring their immediate families to Sweden. They are housed in government-sponsored reception centers or, if it can be arranged, in private accommodation. They receive the same social welfare benefits and emergency health care as asylum seekers. Minors have access to full health-care facilities.

In December 1999, the Swedish government proposed a bill to amend its temporary protection system in "mass flight situations." The government withdrew the bill in March 2000 following criticism by the political opposition, nongovernmental organizations, and a parliamentary committee. Under the proposal, persons in situations of mass flight would have been given temporary protection but would have been ineligible to apply for asylum for two years. UNHCR said there should always be a right to apply for asylum to take into account the special protection needs of individuals or special groups.

Resettled Refugees

Sweden's resettlement quota in 2000 was targeted at 1,800 persons. During the year, Sweden actually resettled 1,501 persons. These included 345 persons from Iran, 339 from Afghanistan, 335 from Iraq, and 218 from Croatia. According to UNHCR, one reason Sweden did not meet its quota was the length of time required for certain refugees to obtain permits to leave their countries of "first asylum." During the year, the immigration board cancelled a trip to Iraq to select 300 refugees for resettlement, after Iraqi authorities refused to allow departures from the northern zone. In Iran, some 225 Afghan cases had difficulty obtaining exit visas.

After arriving in Sweden, each admitted person must affirmatively seek UN Refugee Convention status. The individual may be denied such status but, if so, is usually granted permission to stay either on humanitarian grounds or as being "in need of protection." Each refugee resettled in Sweden is assigned to a municipality upon arrival. The local authorities are responsible for the refugee's integration.

Restrictive Measures

Sweden places asylum seekers arriving from "safe third countries" or "safe countries of origin" in accelerated procedures. Sweden considers Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Romania, and Slovakia as safe third countries.

Sweden deems asylum applicants from countries that historically have had low approval rates in Sweden as "manifestly unfounded." Such cases are also placed into an accelerated procedure. Applicants rejected on safe third country and manifestly unfounded grounds may appeal their denials. To bring its policy in line with EU resolutions, Sweden began suspending expulsion orders for applicants awaiting appeals of manifestly unfounded claims in 1999.

Sweden rejected 758 cases on safe country of origin grounds during 2000, mostly for nationals of Bosnia, Lithuania, Romania, Russia, and the Slovak Republic. Another 1,814 applications were rejected on safe third country grounds during the year.

In late October, press reports said that 50 Slovak citizens – all ethnic Roma – had asked for political asylum in Sweden in the past few weeks but had all been rejected because they came from a "safe country." Nevertheless, Sweden was the only Scandinavian country that had not at some point imposed a visa requirement for Slovak nationals.

Yugoslavs and Former Yugoslavs

Persons from the former Yugoslavia constitute one of the largest refugee populations in Sweden. During the year, 2,055 Yugoslav citizens applied for asylum.

In April 1999, the Swedish Parliament issued a decree granting temporary protection for Yugoslav citizens from Kosovo. The decree gave 11-month residence permits to Kosovar arrivals under the humanitarian evacuation program (HEP) as well as to spontaneous arrivals, including asylum seekers with pending claims. Under HEP, 3,729 Kosovo Albanians arrived from Macedonia, fewer than the 5,000 persons Sweden had agreed to accept. In all, Sweden granted temporary protection to 7,016 Kosovo refugees.

Kosovo refugees arriving after July 5, 1999 received temporary protection until April 11, 2000. Sweden also allowed them to apply for asylum in the regular procedure.

The Kosovars with temporary protection received work permits and other assistance. Because their residence permits were limited to 11 months, however, they could not establish residence in a municipality (which requires at least a 12-month stay).

After NATO troops entered Kosovo, the Swedish government developed plans to assist Kosovo Albanians wanting to repatriate. Sweden provided the equivalent of $3,600 (30,000 Swedish Crowns) per family to returning Kosovars.

In November 2000, Sweden halted the repatriation of Kosovars after criticism from aid agencies, which said it was inhumane to send the Kosovars back to the war-torn province while it still faced a lack of housing. The Swedish Red Cross and the UN Mission in Kosovo also urged the government not to return any more refugees before the winter. The foreign ministry said the refugees would likely be allowed to stay until spring.

Between July 1999 and the suspension of the returns, about 2,900 Kosovars repatriated. Some 4,000 Kosovars remained in Sweden under temporary protection at the end of 2000. Of those, more than 2,000 had applied for asylum, but most have so far been rejected.

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