“The ongoing negotiations will hopefully lead to a more equal assessment procedure and equal reception conditions inside the European Union and this will be beneficial both for the individual asylum seeker and the EU member states,” says Tobias Billström, Sweden’s Migration Minister.
One of the world's most generous asylum seeking policies
According to the latest figures from the UN, Sweden ranks sixth in the world for the number of new asylum seekers it takes in, that is after much bigger countries like South Africa, the U.S., and Germany.
“We’re already at the top of the list and would like other members of the EU to join us in our top position,” says Billström. “But it’s important to recognize that Sweden does a lot and in regards to several member states who don’t annually take in as many as we do, we need to see a more even distribution of asylum applications.”
Around 1.5 million refugees live in the twenty seven EU countries plus Norway and Switzerland. And Sweden takes in the fourth highest number of asylum seekers in the EU.
Each country in the EU treats asylum seekers differently and in some countries, refugees say they are treated inhumanely.
The Dublin regulation
In one high profile case in 2011, the Europe's Human Rights court criticized the EU migration rules after an Afghan asylum seeker was treated inhumanely in Belgium and Greece.
And in another recent example in Sweden, a 15 year-old asylum seeker from Afghanistan who traveled from Italy to Sweden, sewed his mouth shut when his application for asylum was rejected.
The Migration Board was about to send him back to Italy in accordance with an EU rule called the Dublin regulation. This rule says that refugees be deported back to the first EU country they entered so they can file their refugee application there.
But the boy said he was beaten by border guards and sexually abused in an Italian refugee camp. After the uproar, authorities allowed him to stay in Sweden, at least for the time being.
These cases highlight one of the most controversial aspects of the European Union's asylum policy.
The Swedish branch of the Red Cross has big concerns about the treatment of these unaccompanied minors.
“We feel that the unaccompanied minors are one of the most vulnerable groups today,” says Anki Carlsson, who works with migration issues at the Swedish Red Cross. “As long as we don’t have a common asylum system put in place that’s working in the same way in all countries, we shouldn’t use the Dublin convention for these children. At least, we have to make careful individual assessments if the children will be taken care of in a way that will meet their needs before they get sent back.”
The Red Cross is cautiously optimistic about the new common European Asylum System. But Carlsson says countries need to put a lot of effort into training so they can implement the new system in the same way. And she says there needs to be clear consequences for countries that break the rules.
Reporter: Gabriel Stein firstname.lastname@example.org