refugee policy

600 child asylum seekers in hiding

3:58 min

Seventy five unaccompanied minors seeking asylum in Sweden have gone missing this year and Swedish authorities know very little about where these youths go or how they are living. Here's Sophie Vukovich with that story

More children and youths seek asylum in Sweden than in any other country in the world. But each year a significant number of them disappear from asylum centers when their applications have been denied.

Just this year 75 unaccompanied minors have gone missing. And the Swedish police and Migration Board know very little about where they're hiding or how they're living. Twenty unaccompanied minors were reported missing from centers in Malmö in the past months. But police aren't looking for them, says Peter Norén a criminal inspector with the border police in Malmö.

"If we had an address or if someone would give us a tip then naturally we would look for them, but we don't have anything to go on," Norén tells Swedish Radio News.

Many of the children and youths who disappear belong in the category of so-called "Dublin cases" - that is, errands the Migration Board won't look at because the children have applied for asylum in another European country before arriving in Sweden.

Social services in several municipalities describe how the youths just pick up and leave housing provided by the Migration Board one day.

"They bring their belongings with them and don't leave a trace behind," Noren says.

17-year-old Gana is one of them. He chose the streets of Stockholm over the asylum center this winter.

"I found IKEA. There you can get cheap hotdogs with bread for less than a dollar. I went there every day and ate hotdogs," Gana told Swedish Radio News.

Gana was denied asylum this winter. Shortly thereafter he left the center to avoid being deported from Sweden. Instead he headed to Stockholm.

"I rode the subway until it stopped at 1 or 2 a.m. Then I waited for it to start again in the morning, usually at 4 a.m. I would sleep on the train until 8 in the morning because I figured they would check for tickets after that," he said. 

Last year more than 2,600 unaccompanied children and youths sought asylum in Sweden. This year 3,000 are expected to arrive. But only 75 percent of them will be allowed to stay.

All together, 600 minors have disappeared from centers since 2007.

The authorities don't know much about how these children are faring. While local Social Services are responsible for housing these minors, the agencies don't look for them when they go missing, unless they have a solid lead.

"If we have some clues or if we have the name of the child's friend, then we call the friend and ask. But it's rare that we have that information," Sema Soer, with social services in Malmö, tells Swedish Radio News.

Gana got help from a church in Malmö. Before that he didn't have anywhere to go.

"When I got I hungry I would look for cans and bottles to turn in for the deposit. Then I got sick with a fever and a cold and felt like I was going to die," Gana said.

What did he do?

"I just walked and walked. I got very tired," he said.

17-year-old Boldo was denied asylum this past autumn. He left the center he was staying at to avoid being sent back to Mongolia. Now we works for about five US dollars an hour, washing and cleaning at a restaurant. Each shift is 12 hours long without a break.