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How those living illegally in Sweden can still live and work

Published tisdag 16 maj kl 06.00
Illegal worker: They don't ask about your life in depth
(5:03 min)
Vivian has been given food, clothes and housing by the congregation of her Stockholm Church
Vivian has been given food, clothes and housing by the congregation of her Stockholm church Credit: Richard Orange

As many as 50,000 people might be living in Sweden illegally. But not all of them are unemployed. Radio Sweden followed one of them in her work.

Vivian, who came as an asylum seeker from Africa, is picking up the boy she looks after from his Stockholm school.

We haven't waited long in the school lobby before Vivian meets someone she knows.

She smiles and chats freely to the woman, the mother of one of the children in the class of the boy Vivian picks up from school.

It's not surprising that other parents and childminders know who Vivian is: she's been coming here every week in term-time for three years. 

What they don't know is that what she's doing is illegal. Since her last asylum request was rejected in 2013, Vivian has had no right to work, or even to live, in Sweden. 

"They don't ask about your private life deeply," Vivian says of the Swedish family which employs her.  

When she lost her right to work, the childminder agency which put her in touch with the family ended her contract. But not all of the families she worked for wanted to see her go. 

"Some of them quit, but some, we talk and I told them, now I don't have permission to work, but I have this temporary number. I can pay taxes, and they accepted."

If someone has been registered with the Swedish tax system while seeking asylum, there is nothing to stop them continuing to pay tax even after losing their permit to work.

At present, privacy laws prevent the tax agency reporting this to the police or migration authorities. 

"I can show how I have been paying my tax," Vivian tells me. "I'm a Christian. It's better to follow the rules, even if it's not right, because I don't have permission to stay in Sweden."

It's hard to see what good her honesty will do her, as it will not make her eligible for healthcare, education or any other help from the Swedish, and it won't help her next residency application either. 

Vivian fled her African country to Sweden in 2007, because of a property dispute linked to long-standing ethnic tensions, which she says also involved people in the government. 

Her uncle and his immediate family were murdered, and although she at first tried to fight to retain her land, in the end she was forced to leave. 

The country is however judged safe by the Swedish Migration Agency, and her asylum requests have been repeatedly refused.

Vivian has provided evidence that government spies are active in Sweden, targeting asylum seekers, and she reported being threatened by someone at a festival she went to who was speaking her African language. 

These reports have not managed to sway Sweden's Migration Agency. 

For much of her ten-year struggle, Vivian has relied on the congregation of her Stockholm church, members of which have given her a place to stay, clothes, and at times even food. 

A medical charity has helped her get some treatment for the painful womb disorder she suffers from, but because she has no right to live in Sweden, she cannot get the surgery she needs to cure it. 

Even now, she says, she often fears being seized by the police, particularly after the terror attack on central Stockholm last month, which was carried out by a man whose asylum request had been rejected. 

"I avoid going out in the train and in the buses or in public where there are a lot of people," she says. "Other times I go out, I go out because I'm taking care of these kids...but I'm always worried."

She says her church helps her stay positive, but does not always succeed, and she suffers headaches she believes are caused by stress.

"You can't accept a bad situation, but I try my best not to let my situation make me depressed. I try my best."

Our journalism is based on credibility and impartiality. Swedish Radio is independent and not affiliated to any political, religious, financial, public or private interests.
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