Refugees Lie About Age to Avoid Deportation, But at a Price

Child refugees coming alone to Sweden aren’t always children. According to workers at several different refugee housing facilities, many people say that they are younger than they actually are in order to get better treatment and avoid deportation.

Sometimes the difference in real age and given age can be upwards of ten years, leading to problems when it comes to schooling, medical care, and housing.

Asha, a refugee from Somalia, told migration officials that she was 19 years old when she arrived. But her real age was 30.

When asked by Radio Sweden why she lied, she said that she did it to get a residence permit.

The bluff has posed some real problems for Asha, who is sick with high blood pressure. Because doctors think she is so young, they don’t give her enough medicine.

"The doctor switches my medicine over and over again, but it doesn't help. But I can't tell the doctor that I'm older. I have to keep quiet," she said.

Now she thinks that lying about her age was the wrong thing to do, because it can’t be changed afterward. She could lose her residence permit if it is revealed that she’s actually much older than she first said she was.

People seeking asylum who are underage have an easier time getting a residence permit, and are less likely to be deported. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child stipulates that child refugees cannot be sent back to their homelands unless someone there can take care of them, and so many stay in Sweden, where they have a right to schooling, room and board, and health care.

It’s very difficult to say for sure how many people lie about their age when coming as refugees, but a study using dental tests in Norway revealed that 9 out of 10 underage refugee children were actually older than 18. The Migration Board in Sweden hasn’t done any such studies, but it does say that they have to adjust ages upwards in 15 percent of cases.

Besides medical consequences, such age differences can cause problems at the homes where they live, where children that are supposed to be about the same age actually live with people nearing their thirties. And what’s more, these people will have to work longer before getting their pension. For people like Asha, who has said she is 11 years younger than she really is, she won’t be able to get a pension until she’s actually 76, rather than 65.

More and more child refugees are arriving alone in Sweden. Last year, 2,250 came, and this year will probably see even more, and so the trend of lying about one’s age is likely to continue.