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Abuse Charges Rekindle Swedish Asylum Kids Debate

Publicerat torsdag 24 november 2005 kl 11.08

Swedish immigration officials have urged police to investigate allegations that asylum-seekers starved and poisoned their children to fake a disorder that has been dismissed by some as a ruse to secure residence in Sweden.

Experts are at a loss to explain why more than 420 cases of Pervasive Refusal Syndrome appear to have occurred in Sweden but are rare anywhere else. The children refuse to eat, talk or move, shocking a country reputed for its humanitarianism.

Now immigration officials in Stockholm have asked police to probe 13 allegations of sick children being abused. They told Svenska Dagbladet paper of their ”frustration” that social services had ignored tip-offs of starvation and poisoning.

Social Services Minister Morgan Johansson said on Wednesday he found the allegations ”not at all too hard to believe”. He was immediately criticised by Ulla Hoffman of the Left Party for ”questioning whether the children are really sick”.

Doctors and politicians are divided over what the media has dubbed ”apathetic children syndrome”. Some psychiatrists say it is brought on by the stress of fleeing their homelands and of the drawn-out asylum process, which is now being streamlineed.

Others say Sweden’s asylum tradition invites abuse and that parents force children to fake illness to win the family asylum on humanitarian grounds, because they cannot prove they would really suffer persecution if they returned home.

The centre-left government refuses to stop deporting the children if their families do not qualify for asylum. But under pressure from church groups and charities it has agreed to a temporary change of the law granting such families fresh asylum hearings.

Lotta Wiberg, head of child psychiatry for asylum-seekers in Stockholm, where about 70 children have the syndrome, told local radio ”the cases in our care have never given me reason to suspect anything like this, and I would have noticed”.

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