Sweden Toughens Rules for Refugees Seeking Asylum
Dan Bilefsky, The New York Times
21 June 2016
Image: The Majid family, refugees from Syria, at their home in Backhammar, Sweden, in April. Sweden has introduced tough new restrictions on asylum seekers. Mauricio Lima for The New York Times
Sweden, once one of the most welcoming countries for refugees, on Tuesday introduced tough new restrictions on asylum seekers, including rules that would limit the number of people granted permanent residency and make it more difficult for parents to reunite with their children.
The government said the legislation, proposed by the Social Democrat minority government and enacted by a vote of 240 to 45, was necessary to prevent the country from becoming overstretched by the surge of migration to Europe that began last year.
The country, which has a population of 9.5 million, took in 160,000 asylum seekers last year.
The government said that under the new rules, individuals who want to bring over family members but do not apply to do so within three months of arriving in Sweden, would have to prove they can financially support them; current regulations require sponsors to demonstrate only that they can support themselves. Permanent residency for asylum-seekers under the age of 25 would be restricted to those who have completed high school and can support themselves.
People who are formally granted refugee status would be able to bring over family members from abroad, but the legislation would circumscribe the family members who are eligible.
As elsewhere in Europe, the far right in Sweden has been railing against immigration, a stance that is increasingly resonating with voters. The Sweden Democrats, a far-right anti-immigrant party, won almost 13 percent of the vote in a 2014 general election, and recent polls show it gaining in strength.
Morgan Johansson, Sweden’s justice and migration minister, said in a heated parliamentary debate on the issue on Monday that the country’s “system would completely collapse” if 200,000 asylum seekers came to Sweden this year, according to Radio Sweden.
Wealthy countries across northern Europe, including Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Britain, are increasingly pushing back against calls to accept more refugees amid fears that it could undermine stretched welfare systems, national integration and quality of life.
The issue has become particularly acute ahead of Britain’s vote this week on whether to leave the European Union, with those in favor of an exit from the bloc arguing that membership has left the country unable to control its borders and defend itself against an immigrant influx.
The proposed legislation in Sweden quickly came under criticism from human rights groups, which accused the country of passing rules harmful to children as a way to deter refugees.
“Long a leader in promoting the rights of asylum seekers and refugees, Sweden is now joining the race to the bottom,” said Rebecca Riddell, Europe and Central Asia fellow at Human Rights Watch. “Sweden should not sacrifice the well-being of vulnerable children in an effort to make the country less attractive for asylum seekers.”
The United Nations said on Monday that more people are on the run than ever before in recorded history, buffeted by war and conflict from Africa to the Middle East, with an unprecedented number seeking political asylum in the world’s rich countries. The total number of people displaced by conflict is estimated to be more than 65 million, the United Nations said.
Sweden introduced new identity checks for travelers arriving from Denmark, prompting the Danes, who were concerned about the potential for a bottleneck of migrants seeking to travel through their country, to impose new controls on migrants traveling via its border with Germany.
Denmark also passed a law requiring newly arrived asylum seekers to hand over valuables, including jewelry and gold, to help pay for their stay in the country.
The United Nations refugee agency has warned that restrictions on residency permits in Sweden could undermine unaccompanied migrant children in the country and that separating families for extended periods could also have a “detrimental effect.”
Resentment toward migrants in Sweden was heightened last summer when a woman and her son were stabbed to death at an Ikea in Vasteras. An Eritrean who had been denied asylum was charged with the crime.
© 2016, The New York Times
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