At the end of 2002, Sweden hosted around 24,900 refugees and asylum seekers. These included about 23,600 asylum seekers with pending claims, about 1,000 refugees resettled from overseas, around 260 persons granted asylum during the year, and 18 persons granted residence on protection grounds due to persecution based on gender or sexual orientation.

During the year, over 33,000 persons applied for asylum in Sweden, 40 percent more than in 2001. The largest numbers came from Yugoslavia (5,900), Iraq (5,500), Bosnia (2,900), and Russia (1,500). Some 860 asylum seekers were stateless, mostly Palestinians.

The Swedish Migration Board, the initial decision-making authority, issued over 23,600 asylum decisions during the year. Of those, the board recognized around 260 persons (about 1 percent) as refugees under the Refugee Convention, while granting "residence permits on protection grounds" to about 860 persons and "residence permits on humanitarian grounds" to another 4,000 (21 percent). The board rejected any form of protection for 18,500 persons (78 percent). Some 3,100 cases were administratively closed during the year.

At the appeals level, the Alien Appeals Board (AAB) made decisions on the asylum claims of 12,000 persons, granting 220 persons asylum and around 2,100 residence permits (2,000 residence permits on humanitarian grounds and 100 residence permits on protection grounds.) The appeals board rejected 10,000 applications.

Asylum Procedure

All asylum applications are submitted directly to the Migration Board. Negative decisions may be appealed to the AAB, which may refer cases to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Migration Board may refer cases directly to the ministry when the government's decision sets a precedent for a large group of asylum seekers. During the year, the Swedish Parliament continued to discuss abolishing the AAB and transferring the right to review to the administrative courts.

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

The Migration Board grants asylum to applicants who have a well-founded fear of persecution under the Refugee Convention. However, the Aliens Act expressly disallows decision makers to consider gender or sexual orientation as a social group for the purposes of granting asylum under the UN Refugee Convention. This position was reinforced in Sweden's gender persecution guidelines issued in March 2001. Therefore, refugees fleeing gender- and sexual orientation-based persecution do not receive formal refugee status in Sweden. In 2002, the Swedish government began an internal review of this policy in response to a September 2002 European Commission proposal that persecution on the grounds of gender and sexual preference should be considered under "membership of a particular social group." The proposals arising from the review are expected in 2003.

Residence Permits on Protection Grounds

Under provisions of the Aliens Act, the Migration Board may grant "residence permits on protection grounds" to persons who do not meet the definition of a refugee, but who fit into one of three categories: persons who risk torture or other inhuman treatment or punishment, including the death penalty; those who cannot return to their country of origin because of an environmental disaster or armed conflict; and those with a well-founded fear of persecution on account of their gender or homosexuality. Although not all persons who qualify for such permits meet the definition of a refugee, the U.S. Committee for Refugees (USCR) counts those granted under the latter category, of which there were 18 in 2002, among refugees and asylum seekers in need of international protection.

Residence Permits on Humanitarian Grounds

In addition to granting residence permits on protection grounds under the Aliens Act, the Migration Board may also grant "residence permits on humanitarian grounds" to persons who do not qualify for refugee status, but who should not be returned on humanitarian grounds. The Aliens Act does not define "humanitarian grounds," but according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, 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. USCR does not count such persons as refugees or asylum seekers in need of protection.

Temporary Protection

During 2002, Sweden made no grants of temporary protection. However, the Swedish government established a legislative system of temporary protection in July 1994 to cover persons not eligible for refugee status (or "in need of protection"). 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 if the government has begun to establish a return program to the recipient's country of origin. 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 public benefits and emergency health care as asylum seekers. Minors have full access to medical care.

Accelerated Procedures

Sweden places asylum seekers who originated from or traveled through countries deemed safe in accelerated procedures. Sweden considers Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Romania, and the Slovak Republic to be safe third countries. Sweden deems applicants from countries that historically have had low approval rates in Sweden to have manifestly unfounded claims. Such cases are also placed into an accelerated procedure. Applicants rejected on safe country grounds or as manifestly unfounded may appeal their denials. To bring its policy in line with European Union resolutions, Sweden began suspending removal orders upon such appeals in 1999.

Asylum seekers in Sweden may receive advice and assistance from non-governmental organizations including the Swedish Refugee Advice Center, which also provides legal support. The government provides legal aid to asylum seekers, except those whose applications are deemed manifestly unfounded. The government also provides interpretation services throughout the asylum process.

In March 2001, when Sweden implemented the Schengen Convention, the Migration Board advised the government that it would need to increase police surveillance of aliens in border areas with other Schengen countries. However, in February, the Migration Board attributed an increase in asylum applications to Sweden's integration to the Schengen Convention, a lack of checks at the country's internal borders, and the attractiveness of the country to asylum seekers, in terms of its democratic credentials, high standard of living and generous public assistance, and liberal rules on family reunification (which include same sex or cohabiting partners and close relatives of persons with residence permits in Sweden).

The Migration Board struggled with the status of stateless Palestinians during the year. In February, Palestinians held hunger strikes to protest delays of up to three years for more than 900 Palestinians awaiting a decision on their asylum claims. In November, the Migration Board granted residence on humanitarian grounds to Palestinian claimants in two landmark cases.

Assistance and Integration

Since 1994, asylum seekers have had the right to live with relatives or friends while awaiting asylum decisions. In 2002, due to the sharp increase in asylum applicants, Sweden increased funds to speed up asylum application processing and to cover housing and assistance for asylum seekers. During the year, around 40,000 asylum seekers resided in government-funded housing while their applications were processed.

The government grants allowances to applicants without other means of support. Asylum seekers whose applications are expected to take longer than four months to process may receive work permits. School-age children may attend school. The Swedish Board of Integration sponsors language training, job placement, and housing programs.

Unaccompanied Minors

The number of asylum applications from unaccompanied minors rose sharply in Sweden in late 2001 and early 2002, as about 290 applied in December 2001 alone and 550 during 2002. In February, the government began an investigation into claims of a child prostitution ring active in asylum seekers' reception centers throughout Sweden. During the year, more than ten asylum-seeking minors attempted suicide in Sweden. In April, the government stipulated that legal guardians would make asylum applications on behalf of unaccompanied minors, and in December, it directed the Migration Board to process unaccompanied minors' asylum claims within three months.

Resettled Refugees

Sweden's resettlement quota in 2002 was 1,800 persons but, during the year, Sweden actually resettled only about 1,000 persons, including 250 from Iraq, 190 from Iran, and 160 from Afghanistan. Each refugee resettled in Sweden is assigned to a municipality upon arrival, and the local authorities are responsible for the refugee's integration.


Under the Aliens Act, adult asylum seekers may be detained on arrival for up to 14 days if immigration officials doubt the applicant's identity or nationality, or if they believe the person will abscond or has been involved in criminal activity. Immigration officials may detain indefinitely asylum seekers whose claims are deemed manifestly unfounded or claimants who come from countries deemed safe and are processed under the accelerated procedure. Under the Special Control of Aliens Act, child asylum seekers may also be detained prior to removal. In 2002, Sweden detained around 3,100 asylum seekers, of which about 130 were children. At year's end, 160 persons remained in detention, of which 3 were children.

On December 16, the government announced its intention to open a new reception center near Sweden's Gardemonen airport to process and quickly remove claimants with manifestly unfounded claims.


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