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Sweden offers asylum to Syrian refugees

September 7, 2013   ·   1 Comments


On Tuesday Sweden became the first EU member state to announce that it would grant asylum to all Syrian refugees who applied.

“All Syrian asylum seekers who apply for asylum in Sweden will get it”, stated Annie Hoernblad, the spokesperson for Sweden’s migration agency. The decision was made with the assumption that violence in Syria is not likely to end in the near future. Hoernblad also made clear that Sweden’s decision would provide refugees with permanent resident status, which would be valid until further notice.

Previously, Sweden’s immigration policy stipulated that it could temporarily house Syrian refugees for a period of three years, after which the state individually assessed cases.

It is presumed that the vast majority of Syrian nationals who currently have provisional status will apply for permanent residency. Those granted permanent status would also be allowed to bring their families to Sweden, something that was not previously permitted.

Sweden’s decision has coincided with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres’ description of the conflict in Syria as “the great tragedy of this century”.

The United Nations has declared that the number of Syrian refugees fleeing surpassed two million last month. According to UNHCR statistics around one third of Syria’s pre-war population of 20 million have been forced to leave their homes since fighting started in the Spring of 2011.

Since 2012, Sweden has opened up its borders to approximately 14,700 Syrian asylum seekers.

Swedish Migration Minister, Tobias Billstroem, has called upon other countries to recognise their duty to assist the Syrian people. “No other conflict on Earth today is as terrible as the long and bloody conflict in Syria. That should make many politicians, inside and outside the EU, think about our responsibilities,” he told Aftonbladet, a Swedish newspaper.

The decision has been welcomed by Malek Laesker, vice-chair of the Syrian Arabian Cultural Association of Sweden. However, he also expressed concern, recognizing that this may create problems.

“The fact that Sweden is the first country to open its arms is both positive and negative,” he told a Swedish news agency, indicating that it may be a bonus for the increasing people-smuggling market.

The move will also undoubtedly aggravate the already contentious debate about Sweden’s immigration policies, challenging its ‘dream society’ image.

It was only May of this year when riots swept across Stockholm due to the number of asylum seekers reaching record levels.

The riots were sparked by Swedish police shooting dead an elderly man who held a machete inside his home. Angered by this, youths set fire to cars and buildings, stoning police and firefighters in the process. The trouble spread to many immigrant-dominated areas.

Frederik Reinfeldt, Sweden’s centre-right Prime Minister condemned the “hooligans”, but also expressed sympathy and concern about the difficult “transition period between different cultures”.

2012 and 2013 has witnessed 14,700 Syrian asylum seekers arrive in Sweden. Along with Germany, Sweden is the EU member state that has accepted the highest number of asylum seekers from the war-torn country. This figure is only set to further increase.

Focus needs to be placed in ensuring integration between different communities is smooth and successful.

“We have tried harder than any other European country to integrate, spending billions on a welfare system that is designed to help jobless immigrants and guarantee them a good quality of life,” said leader of the National Democrats Party, Marc Abramsson. He went on to explain that there are certain areas where ethnic groups are unable to identify with Swedish society. They perceive the police and fire brigade as the state and attack them. He believes that the issue at hand is not about racism, instead it is that multi-culturalism does not recognise how humans can function and behave.

The Swedish government has tried to improve social cohesion but so far it hasn’t worked. A solution needs to be found quickly to prevent a repeat of the riots. Hopefully Sweden’s decision will spur other states to take in homeless refugees, however actually being able to cope with an increased population is mandatory.

Photo credit: Florian Prischl via Flickr 

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Ayesha Ghafoor

Ayesha Ghafoor graduated from Royal Holloway, University of London with a BA in European Studies with Spanish. She is now undertaking an MA in International Studies and Diplomacy at SOAS.

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I think it's a bit of a myth that all asylum seekers are granted asylum. True that last year 43,887 refugees were granted asylum in Sweden which is a huge increase from the year before (40% according to which provides guidance to asylum seekers) and there are many more to come but a big number of people are not granted asylum because they don't meet the criteria. To be accepted an asylum seeker must be able to prove reasons to fear persecution due to race, nationality, religious or political beliefs, gender, sexual orientation or affiliation to a particular social group. There are still a substantial number of asylum seekers that are turned away each year who don't technically meet the criteria.