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Story Publication logo July 7, 2017

The Price of Sweden's New Asylum Policy


A Swedish flag aloft in Stockholm. Image by Amy Russo. Sweden, 2017.

Thousands of lone minors fled war to find shelter in Sweden, a once exceptionally welcoming country...

Abdullah, 18, shown here in front of an asylum center in Kungälv. Image by Amy Russo. Sweden, 2017.
Abdullah, 18, shown here in front of an asylum center in Kungälv. Image by Amy Russo. Sweden, 2017.

Abdullah fled Afghanistan at 16, his mother, wife, and children beside him on the journey. However, he never expected to end up in Sweden alone. The group was separated in Turkey two years ago when police began removing young men from the crowds of refugees and placing them into different camps. Abdullah didn't realize that was the last time he would see his family.

Not knowing where they had been taken, he continued on the journey, spending an entire month in Greece searching for them. Having no success, he later arrived in Sweden and finally achieved contact last May, the first time since 2015. As it turns out, they never reached Greece. In a cruel turn of events, after their 16-hour walk into Turkey without food or water, Abdullah's family is back in Afghanistan, having been deported from Turkey.

Abdullah, now in an asylum center near Gothenburg, was lucky. The Migration Agency granted him permanent residence after he qualified for 'refugee' status, a rare achievement for Sweden's Afghan asylum seekers. Now, he may have the opportunity to bring his family, if they can cross over into Pakistan to reach the Afghan embassy in Islamabad. However, this is nearly impossible because of Taliban activity near the border. But Sweden's new asylum regulations may prove tougher than the act of border crossing.

Last year, Sweden would have welcomed Abdullah's family without question. Now, under recent changes to its asylum regulations, Abdullah must prove he can financially provide for himself plus each family member, and he must show he has secured housing that the government deems large enough for all of them. He must also do this alone as a refugee learning a new language, and in the midst of the country's perpetual housing shortage.

While he's living in Sweden, like many asylum seekers, he wishes his home country wasn't in disrepair. "I think why I am here," he said. "Why I am not in my country, why my country is war, why I cannot study in my country, why I cannot work in my country, why I cannot everything."

For those stranded from their families, having reached Sweden is like having entered purgatory. The possibility to be reunited and live a normal life outside of an asylum center remains just a little too far out of reach.

Tightened policies have been motivated by a palpable shift in national mood prompted by the massive number of arrivals in 2015. The Sweden Democrats, part of the country's populist and xenophobic movement, has now become its second most popular political party, surging in the polls just ahead of the 2018 elections.

Mattias Karlsson, the party's parliamentary leader, believes support will continue to increase. "I think a lot of people have woken up to the fact that culture matters and it's not the same to have, for example, 200,000 Finnish refugees as we had in the Second World War as it is to have 200,000 Afghan and Syrian and Iraqi young men," he said. "There is definitely a cultural clash."

The origins of the Sweden Democrats can be traced back to Neo-Nazism, and while they've since tried to rebrand the party and kick out extremists, anti-immigrant sentiments remain the group's primary platform. As politics continue to shift and Sweden closes its once open-door program, refugees like Abdullah pay the price, showing the cost of policy change is more than just monetary.



teal halftone illustration of a family carrying luggage and walking


Migration and Refugees

Migration and Refugees

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