Perspectives on the Swedish Refugee Asylum System

They fled because of war, tyranny or hunger. When 2006 turned into 2007, almost 33 million people were refugees around the world, according to the Church of Sweden. Some of them sought asylum in Sweden, where a steady stream of applications keeps coming in.

“I remember this feeling of waiting for something that we did not know what it would be,” says Igor Rankovic, who came to Sweden as a 22-year-old university student in 1993.

Rankovic fled a Yugoslavia torn apart by war and came to Ystad in southern Sweden by boat. Talking of the time he was forced to become a refugee, he says: “People are dying, people are disappearing. In order to survive you adapt, the extreme becomes normal.” 

Dag Bonke with the Swedish Migration Board says that the asylum applications are like a world map. Asylum peaked in the early 1980s with about 80,000 applicants, many then came due to the civil war in former Yugoslavia, Bonke says.

Officials estimate that about 20,000 people have sought asylum in Sweden in 2009. That is about half of the number of refugees arriving in 2007. Now most asylum seekers are from Iraq, but more and more of these applications are denied, Bonke says and explains that the decisions are made based on the Geneva Convention and the repercussions for an individual to return home. 

“It’s very hard for the individual [asylum seeker] but it is also hard on case managers and police,” he says and points out that it is a hard task to explain to sometimes desperate people that according to the rules, he or she cannot stay in Sweden.

At the Migration Board, regular counselling sessions are held and within the police, debriefing is available if requested, or deemed necessary, officials say.

It can be the local police, the Swedish Prison and Probation System or the Swedish Border Patrol that then gets the assignment to enforce the deportation.

This year the Swedish Border Patrol will return about 2,000 asylum seekers to their original countries, officers say. And, there are an estimated 8,700 asylum seekers, who got their application denied, currently living illegally in Sweden.

Detective Superintendent, Per-Uno Johansson, who heads the investigation unit of the border police in Stockholm, says their job is also to escort people who refuse to return home. “There can be a lot of emotions involved,” he says. “But we try to do it with dignity and respect.”

No matter how it’s done, deportation is not a positive thing, and going through the asylum process is hard, mentally, asylum seeker Igor Rankovic says.

He remembers a vivid incident at one of the refugee camps, when the wait had gotten to a family father. “He just attacked this guy with a fork, he had a nervous breakdown,” Rankovic says. “And there were more such situations, especially with those who had families.”

By Majsan Boström