Asylum rights in Sweden may change drastically and the number of people granted residence permit is in danger of decreasing. RFSL stands up for a humane migration policy. We have started a petition which we plan to submit later this summer to the authorities who at this moment are about to negotiate away large parts of Sweden's asylum rights.
RFSL has seen a significant deterioration in asylum rights in Sweden following the introduction of the temporary law in 2016 (thereafter prolonged to 2019) restricting the possibility of being granted a residence permit in Sweden. In June 2019 the government appointed a parliamentary composed committee tasked with overlooking the shaping of the future Swedish migration policy.
What is currently (July 2020) being discussed isn’t only that parts of the temporary law should be made permanent, there are other, far-reaching, suggestions that would affect vulnerable groups, like for example LGBTQI people, most severely.
– for Sweden to have a humane migration policy,
– for Sweden to follow UNHCR’s recommendations in the development of its future migration policy,
– for Sweden to have a migration policy that protects the most vulnerable groups, like LGBTQI people,
– for Swedish politicians to reject benchmarks and volume targets. People who flee, LGBTQI people among others, are people and not volumes, and
-for decision-makers to consider civil society’s view on the humane consequences of a restrictive migration policy.
Political suggestions for a humane migration policy:
1. That permanent residence permits should be the norm.
2. That legal, financial and practical obstacles to family reunification should be removed and that LGBTQI people too should have the right to family reunification.
3. No to benchmarks and volume targets. A volume target would be deeply inhumane, as it leads to people in need not receiving protection.
4. A humane period of limitation. Don’t prolong the period of limitation beyond the current four years. A prolongation would mean that Sweden, in practice, would contribute to people living under inhumane conditions.
Permanent residence permits as the norm
Temporary residence permits lead to great human suffering
We can see that the introduction of a temporary, instead of a permanent, residence permit has led to increased mental ill-health. Temporary residence permits have also complicated the treatment of, for example, trauma and the establishment in society. Temporary residence permits are inhumane and destructive, to individuals and to society. Not knowing if you will be able to stay in Sweden or be returned to your country of origin is a source of great suffering. Mental ill-health is an obstacle when trying to establish oneself in society.
Permanent residence permits for LGBTQI people
Sexual orientation, gender identity and/or gender expression are seldom temporary personality traits. The need for protection because of real or ascribed sexual orientation, gender identity and/or gender expression is very seldom temporary. The persecution of LGBTQI people through criminalising legislation doesn’t usually change over three year’s time. The introduction of temporary residence permits as a main principle presumes that most people with an international need for protection primarily flee from a situation which is temporary and will change. That is not the reality for the majority of the people who flee from persecution based on sexual orientation, gender identity and/or gender expression. Thousands of LGBTQI people flee to Europe every year to escape the persecution, torture and degrading treatment they face in their countries of origin because of their real or ascribed sexual orientation, gender identity and/or gender expression. LGBTQI people’s needs for protection are neither temporary nor passing.
– for permanent residence permits become the norm when an asylum application is approved.
Families’ rights to reunification
A policy that shatters families
The suggestions being discussed will have lasting consequences for people who flee and their families. In the January Agreement, there are passages about people with subsidiary protection status having the right to family reunification, i.e. that there shouldn’t be a distinction made between refugees and people with subsidiary protection status. This is something the new parliamentary committee now wants to forgo. In their view, we should differentiate between different groups of asylum seekers’ right to family reunification. We believe that everybody’s right to family should be absolute. The temporary asylum legislation has shown that parents and children in many cases are separated for several years, and many families, where one or more people have been granted protection in Sweden, have been denied unification. The mental well-being is affected negatively by being separated from one’s family, and one is at an increased risk of depression and PTSD.
Regulations that lead to a drastic tightening of the maintenance requirement as a principal basis for granting residence permits to family members, greatly affect the possibility of reunification. The parliamentary committee suggests stricter requirements for earning capacity and accommodation. In practice, this may constitute as an infringement of the right to respect for private and family life according to the European Convention on Human Rights. The maintenance requirement means that the relative residing in Sweden should be able to support themselves and the family member/s, and have a home large enough to accommodate themselves and the family member/s. Family reunification cases are often denied, even when the family member in Sweden has both an income and accommodation. Either because the accommodation isn’t believed to be large enough and/or that the income isn’t believed to be large enough. There are no fixed income numbers or accommodation sizes to refer to, as all family constellations are different and have different needs. The cost of accommodation also varies greatly within the country. During the temporary law, there has been a drastic increase in denials due to the maintenance requirement.
UNHCR wants Sweden to grant refugees and other asylum seekers the same rights, especially in the time-span of the residence permits and in the right to family reunification to avoid discrimination and secure equal treatment.
Discrimination of LGBTQI people in family reunification
LGBTQI people who want to live together as a family, for example same-sex couples, seldom have the opportunity to get married or live together officially in their countries of origin where LGBTQI people may be persecuted and their relationships criminalised. RFSL is seriously concerned about the obvious risk that only families qualifying as “nuclear families” will be eligible for family reunification. The term “nuclear family” neither mirrors nor recognises other family constellations. As a consequence, LGBTQI people are being discriminated against in practice. They lose the right to family reunification because their relationships are criminalised or discriminated against in their countries of origin, which is often why they flee and seek asylum in Sweden. Even though LGBTQI people should have the same right to family reunification as other refugees and people with subsidiary protection status, they are deprived this right in practice because they can’t prove that they have been, because they couldn’t have been, either married or living together.
– that legal, financial and practical obstacles for family reunification should be removed,
– that LGBTQI people should be granted equal rights to family reunification in practice,
– that an exception in the maintenance requirement should be made for vulnerable groups and those who will never be able to meet the maintenance requirements for other reasons, for example people in torture or trauma treatment, people with PTSD and pensioners, and
– that the exemption from the maintenance requirement for family members who apply for asylum within three months of their relative in Sweden being granted a residence permit should remain.
No to volume targets
The parliamentary committee is currently discussing introducing a volume target. The idea is that the volume target should be an instrument for the asylum policy to make the number of asylum seekers level with other comparable EU countries. If the target is exceeded, this might prompt restrictive measures. UNHCR’s recommendations to the Swedish government is to abstain from introducing yearly volume targets for asylum seekers. A volume target may also contravene article 14 in the UN’s Convention on Human Rights, where it’s stated that: “Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.”
RFSL believes that the suggestion of regulation of the number of asylum seekers cannot have precedence over the people’s right to humanitarian international protection. A volume target would be deeply inhumane, as it would lead to people in need of protection not being granted protection; not because they don’t have the right to protection, but because a country, in this case Sweden, has imposed irrelevant limitations about how many people will be given the opportunity to seek asylum in any given year. The suggestion also contravenes Sweden’s ambition to be a “humanitarian role model”, something it cannot claim to be if a volume target is introduced.
– is against the introduction of volume targets.
A humane period of limitation
The committee suggests that an asylum seeker whose asylum application has been definitely denied should have to wait eight years, instead of today’s four, before being able to apply again. If the suggestion is implemented, a person whose asylum application has been denied will still be able to stay in Sweden during the period of limitation and then apply again. Families will be forced to go underground for longer, which means that the number of children living as undocumented will be doubled. There’s a risk that asylum seekers will be forced to live in a so-called “shadow society” for long periods of time. This would be a serious blow to many asylum seekers, and to LGBTQI asylum seekers in particular.
According to UNHCR’s Guidelines on International Protection no. 9, which is legally binding in Sweden, it’s very common for LGBTQI people not to claim asylum based on their sexual orientation, gender identity and/or gender expression at the beginning of an asylum process. Similarly, the legislative history of the Aliens Act recognises that it may be very difficult to talk about gender and sexual orientation if these subjects are taboo in the asylum seeker’s country of origin. The Europen Court has concluded that the late disclosure of LGBTQI asylum claims shouldn’t affect the credibility assessment. For many LGBTQI asylum seekers, the only solution is to live as undocumented during the four year period of limitation, and thereafter re-apply, raising sexual orientation, gender identity and/or expression as claims for asylum. Prolonging the period of limitation to eight years would mean that many of these LGBTQI people, who de facto risk persecution in their countries of origin, wouldn’t survive. They would be deported to persecution and sometimes to certain death without having had their asylum claims tried in Sweden.
– doesn’t want the period of limitation to be prolonged beyond four years. By prolonging the period of limitation, Sweden will put people in an inhumane, and many times life threatening, situation.