Sweden: Migrants Lie About Age For Increased Benefits, Residence Permit

Immigration policy repeatedly exploited

Image Credits: Freedom House, Flickr.

In 2015, when approximately 35,369 “unaccompanied minors” came to Sweden, 66% of them were from Afghanistan.

This was a staggering number. (In 2016 and 2017, only 3,533 unaccompanied minors came to Sweden.)

In 2015, the high proportion of Afghans among the unaccompanied minors made the migrant group “unaccompanied minors” virtually synonymous with Afghani youth.

During the last ten years, approximately 33,000 unaccompanied minors arrived in Sweden from Afghanistan.

In mid-August 2017, some young Afghan migrants, many of whose asylum applications had been rejected, started a series of demonstrations in central parts of Stockholm.

The young migrants were demanding that the Swedish Migration Agency stop deporting them back to Afghanistan.

Behind the demonstrations was a network calling itself “Young in Sweden.”

It did not take long before the Swedish media hailed the spokesperson of these demonstrations, Fatemeh Khavari, as a heroine.

Six weeks after the demonstrations began, Aftonbladet, Sweden’s largest newspaper, wrote:

“The image of a girl with supernatural powers appears. In two years she has learned Swedish. The sit-ins she leads have spread across the country. Her goal is to become Prime Minister. In another time she would have been praised as a heroine. One who gets medals of honor from the king and is compared to historic human rights activists. Her movement would have been described as a generation of kids and youths who fought for life at any price.”

By the end of August, one of the Afghani demonstrators had stabbed a Swedish police officer in the neck. A supposedly 17-year-old boy who turned out to be 25 was arrested for the attack and later sentenced to prison. Despite the attack, the demonstrations were allowed to continue. Similar demonstrations started around the country, and began to demand amnesty for unaccompanied youths whose asylum application had been rejected.

By September 2017, demonstrations were taking place outside the Afghan consulate in Sweden, and the speakers demanded that the government of Afghanistan renege on the Afghan-Swedish deportation agreement, so that Sweden would not be able to deport Afghans. The Afghan demonstrators also began using a slogan, “We are building the country” (In Swedish: “Vi bygger landet“), one of the Swedish labor movements’ classical slogans. While the Swedish Green Party already had given its support for amnesty to these Afghan youths, some heavyweight Social Democratic commentators wrote an op-ed at the end of September, 2017:

“The parliament can decide some form of amnesty for the Afghan refugees that are now in Sweden. It is not unthinkable that such a bill from the government would also get support from Center Party, the Liberals and Left Party.”

Also in September, the National Board of Forensic Medicine (Rättsmedicinalverketpublished a report showing that in 83% of the cases where it had stated an opinion about the age of the asylum applicant, the asylum applicant had not been a minor. Many asylum applicants had lied about their age simply because there is greater probability of getting a residence permit — and more benefits — if you are a minor. It is also easier, if you are a minor, to bring your relatives to Sweden through family immigration.

That such a large proportion of the migrants had lied about their age, and that one had attacked a police officer, should have been enough for political support for the demonstrations to end. Sweden has, moreover, a transparent migration process whereby migrants can have their asylum application adjudicated by several different bodies. Those who have had their asylum application rejected, therefore, probably have no real reason to get a residence permit in Sweden.

Nevertheless, one month after that, in October 2017, sixteen Social Democratic Members of Parliament declared that they wanted to stop deportations to Afghanistan. Also in October, Uppdrag Granskning, a Swedish news program, produced a report about what actually happens to young Afghans who return to Afghanistan. This second report was notable because the Afghan demonstrators had been saying that Afghans who returned home would die. The report showed that the problem for Afghans returning home was not security. The problem was the economy.

The report, for example, mentioned Rohullah, a young Afghan who was deported to Afghanistan. Rohullah had claimed to be a minor when he arrived in Sweden, but had previously applied for asylum in five different European countries, three times with a false identity. As far as back in 2009, Rohullah had applied for asylum in Austria, where the authorities assessed that he was not a minor. Three other EU countries confirmed that Rohullah was an adult and estimated the year of his birth as 1990.

Despite the report showing that the Afghan demonstrations were based on false assumptions and that there was no immediate security threat to Afghan youths if they returned — and that many had lied about their age and were not really refugees in the first place — the demonstrations continued and support from Swedish politicians grew.

Increasingly, large parts of the Afghan youths’ campaign had turned out to be based on lies. They had, for instance, put a picture on one of their Facebook pagesof a child after a bomb attack, with the text:

“This is today’s picture from Kabul Afghanistan, I have been trying to write something about it but no words came to my mind. Can any of you describe this picture???? — feeling sorry.”

The picture turned not to be from Kabul, but of a child who had survived one of the Assad regime’s attacks in Syria. These kinds of lies, however, were apparently not a problem for Swedish activists and politicians. They continued to give their support to the Afghans youths’ amnesty movement.

By the end of November 2017, the Swedish government, consisting of a coalition of the Social Democrats and the Swedish Green Party, announced that a bill would be introduced making it possible for “unaccompanied youths” to seek a residence permit for four years. The idea was that the migrants could complete high school and then get a job; then, through that job, get a permanent residence permit. The bill would affect those who had waited 15 months or more, and whose asylum application had been adjudicated in court. The bill would address the needs of unaccompanied youths studying — or planning to study — in high school, and who had not committed crimes. The bill did not end the deportations and the age-assessment of the migrants, but meant that some “youths” whose asylum applications had been rejected would get a second chance.

Demonstrations seeking to end deportations to Afghanistan continued throughout December 2017, with Swedish high school students also taking part. In January 2018, the government presented a bill that would give an opportunity to 9,000 unaccompanied youths whose asylum applications had been rejected.

Is it only in Sweden that illegal migrants who lie about their age and the conditions in their country of origin, can convince the government to give them amnesty?

Evidently, despite the changes in Sweden’s migration policy, the naive mentality in Sweden has not changed. The establishment still seems to consist of uninformed people who really believe that the situation in Afghanistan is somehow more dangerous than the situation in countries such as Syria and Iraq.

The first version of the government’s bill received harsh criticism from different institutions. The Swedish Police were critical of the notion that to get a residence permit, an individual only had to show “probable identity”. The police stated that lowering the standard of evidence required for people to identify themselves reduces the ability to have control over who is residing in the country.

The Council on Legislation, a government agency that reviews government bills before they are processed by the parliament, was critical that 2,000 people who were to be deported would receive residence permits through the government bill. The government was giving away residence permits to people who, according to the law, did not have the right to them. The government was simply handing out residence permits, and bypassing the Swedish judiciary and immigration authorities.

When members of the government presented their final version of the bill, the demand that unaccompanied youths should confirm their identity or present evidence that made their age probable, had been entirely removed.

In practice, the bill would mean that unaccompanied youths, most of whom are Afghans who will not confirm their age or identity, could stay in Sweden because they had declared an intent to study in high school sometime in the future.

The government would like parliament to vote on this bill before summer, and for the bill to pass into law in July. In the final version, there is no requirement to confirm either age or identity, so long as they say an asylum seeker intends, at some point, to study in high school.

Maybe more than anything else, this bill shows that instead of having an immigration policy based on the rule of law, the government has handed out residence permits to migrants who, according to Swedish law, had no right to one.

The laws of Sweden should presumably be deciding who stays and who goes, not protesters and the left-wing media. Even politicians should not be able sell off the basic principles of their nation and bend its laws in order to get votes. How is it that migrants who are not in the country legally should have the decisive say in official immigration policy?

The endgame of Sweden’s liberal migration policy is a chaotic situation in which the rights of the strong and the loud — usually young men — are prioritized at the expense of those who really need a hand.