Despite its relative geographical remoteness, Sweden is a main destination country for people seeking protection in the European Union. In 2014, roughly 81,300 applications were registered in Sweden, an increase by almost 50 percent compared to the year before, when 54,259 applications were counted. The 2014 figure represents the highest number since 1992, when roughly 84,000 people applied for asylum in Sweden, mainly due to the war in former Yugoslavia.
In a comparative European perspective, while Sweden had the second highest number of asylum applicants in 2014 after Germany (202,815), it ranked top if counted per capita (8.4 applicants per thousand inhabitants). The five largest groups among asylum seekers coming to Sweden in 2014 were Syrian nationals (38 percent of all asylum seekers), Eritreans (14 percent), stateless persons (ten percent) as well as people from Somalia (six percent) and Afghanistan (four percent).
Reception and Accommodation of Asylum Seekers
Against the background of the strongly increasing numbers of asylum seekers in recent years, topics such as reception arrangements, integration measures, and the unbalanced distribution of asylum seekers among EU Member States, have been much debated in Swedish society. Sweden has a comprehensive reception and accommodation system for incoming asylum seekers which during times of high numbers is put under pressure. The reception system is mainly managed by the Migration Agency. While an application is under consideration, the applicant is enrolled at a reception unit, which will help him/her with accommodation and expenses during the waiting period. There are two different main types of accommodation: In most cases, accommodation is provided by the Migration Agency in an apartment in a normal housing area, rented by the Migration Agency anywhere in the country, or at a reception centre. The asylum applicants receive daily allowances in cash if they cannot support themselves. Urgent medical care is also provided, and families stay together and usually do not share a flat with other asylum applicants. Swedish municipalities decide for themselves whether they wish to take in asylum seekers, and, if so, how many each year, and sign an agreement with the Migration Agency. There is no mandatory distribution key. When ordinary places offered by municipalities are not sufficient, however, the Migration Board may rent temporary accommodation for asylum seekers on the free market, without consulting municipalities. These can be youth hostels, hotels, military barracks and other suitable facilities, including holiday homes, located anywhere in the country.
As an alternative to stay in accommodation provided by the Migration Agency, asylum seekers also have the possibility to arrange their own accommodation. Since applicants usually do not have the financial means to pay the rent for a flat, they often stay with friends or relatives in such cases. Those who choose to reside with friends or family members receive a financial allowance similar to the allowance for those staying in accommodation provided by the state.
On the one hand, this reception system ensures relative flexibility in times of fluctuating numbers of asylum seekers and encourages a distribution across the whole country. On the other hand, however, it also provides fuel for recurrent political conflicts, as there is a tendency for wealthier municipalities in and around Stockholm, as well as in the South of Sweden, to be less willing to provide housing for asylum seekers than poorer municipalities in smaller town and remoter areas. The government has been trying to counteract this by providing financial incentives for those municipalities who accept more asylum seekers than the average. Time and again, however, mandatory distribution keys have been proposed.
Decisions on Asylum Applications
In 2014, the Swedish Migration Agency made decisions on 53,503 asylum applications, roughly 3,000 more than in 2013. In 31,220 cases (58 percent), the decision was positive. Among all positive decisions, refugee status was granted in 34 percent of the cases and subsidiary protection in 59 percent. In another five percent of the cases, a residence permit was granted due to particularly distressing circumstances.
Among the ten most relevant citizenship groups among asylum seekers, Syrian nationals had the highest proportion of positive decisions, 90 percent. If one excludes cases in which the Migration Agency did not consider the application materially, for example due to the responsibility of another European country for the examination of the application ("Dublin cases"), then almost 100 percent of all Syrian applicants were granted protection. Also Eritreans had a very high protection rate in cases in which the application was to be examined in Sweden.
Other important nationality groups with high shares of positive decisions were stateless asylum seekers (80 percent) and Afghans (60 percent). By way of contrast, citizens of Albania and Serbia were in almost all cases not found to be in need of protection.
A comparative analysis of asylum applications reveals another striking feature; the number of unaccompanied minors among asylum seekers is very high in Sweden, if counted in relation to the country’s population. In 2014, the number of minors arriving in Sweden without parents or guardians was almost five times as high as in 2008. 7,050 unaccompanied minors applied for protection in Sweden that year. This was the highest number across the EU. In Germany, which registered the second highest number, there were 4,400 such minors. The question why Sweden apparently is an attractive destination for unaccompanied minors is not easy to answer, as there is no objective evidence. It can be assumed, however, that relatively good standards of accommodation and care, fair perspectives of being granted protection and the generally child-friendly climate in Sweden, act as pull factors.
In addition to people who come to Sweden and apply for asylum there, the country also has a long tradition of receiving refugees via official state-managed resettlement. The government sets an annual quota, and on this basis, the Migration Agency, in cooperation with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), selects displaced persons or refugees in countries of origin or transit countries for protection and residence in Sweden. In recent years, the quota has been 1,900 refugees per year. In 2014, refugees were mainly resettled from Iran, Egypt, Kenya, Uganda, Sudan, Lebanon, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Israel and Turkey, and the largest nationality groups were Syrians, Afghans and Eritreans. Before resettled refugees arrive, they receive cultural orientation about life in Sweden, and it is established in which municipality each person will take residence. This is based on agreements between municipalities and the Migration Agency. Remoter regions of Sweden that are scarcely populated and often face de-population, mainly in the north and northwest of the country, are especially active in providing housing for resettled refugees.
This text is part of the Interner Link: country profile Sweden.