FECL 29 (November 1994):

NEW SWEDISH MINISTER OF IMMIGRATION TOUGH ON ASYLUM

 

Leif Blomberg, the minister of immigration in the new social-democrat government of Ingvar Carlsson has no intention to liberalise the country's asylum policy, despite strong criticism of the immigration authorities' current asylum practice by numerous humanitarian organisations.

Leif Blomberg, formerly the popular head of the mighty union of metallworkers, advocates the introduction of a series of measures aiming at reducing immigration to Sweden:

- The setting up of branch offices of the immigration authorities (Statens Invandrarverk: SIV) at the borders, thereby enab-ling for the speedy rejection and immediate deportation of asylum seekers with "unsufficient grounds" upon entry;

- The introduction of an annual quota limiting the number of immigrants on non-refugee grounds;

- Compulsory finger-printing for all asylum seekers for facilitating the detection of applications made under false identity;

- An examination of the Aliens Appeal Board's (Utlänningsnämnden) proceedings.

- The development of "assistance projects allowing refugees to remain in a country close to their home country".

Mr. Blomberg has emphasised that the above measures are not intended at restricting the right of asylum: "Out of the social democrats conception of solidarity we are defending the right of asylum for those who really need protection."

Critics, however, are pointing at the Swedish immigration authorities' ever more restrictive interpretation of the Geneva Convention on refugees and the rapid harmonisation of the formerly liberal Swedish asylum policies with lower EU-standards in recent years.

As an example, Sweden largely aligned to policy recommendations of the European Council in Copenhagen in May 1993 on the strict application of the "safe third country" and the introduction of stringent visa obligations. As a result, since summer 1993 it has become all but impossible for refugees from former Yugoslavia to seek protection in Sweden.

In recent months, the almost demonstrative hard-handedness of the immigration authorities in a number of deportation cases has lead to disagreement even within SIV. Thus, the chief jurist and deputy director of SIV, P.-E. Nilsson, authorised an Iraqi asylum seeker deported to Jordan after his application was turned down to return to Sweden. Mr. Nilsson overturned SIV's negative decision in compliance with an assessment of the UNHCR that Jordan could not be considered a "safe country" for Iraqi persecutees. Shortly later, the chief of SIV, Mrs. Berit Rollén, withdrew Mr. Nilsson his competence to review decisions of SIV which ammounted to sacking her deputy without notice. Mrs. Rollén's unusually harsh action against her deputy, who is a widely respected senior official and jurist immediately drew a storm of protest. In October, FARR, amidst ever more insisting calls on the government for her dismissal, Mrs. Rollén announced her decision to resign by the end of the year.

Only shortly later, the decision of the immigration authorities to send back a muslim deserter from the Serbian forces to Serbia ended in a major political row. Various groups of the European Parliament called on the Swedish government to stop the deportation. A note of the Liberal Group in the EP calls the dpeortation order "a deplorable case, where the relevant authorities of a candidate for membership pf the European Union seem intent on violating the most elementary conceptions of justice... This case is not only of great importance to those immediately concerned, it is also symbolic of whether the European parliament's and the European Union's protestations about human rights and about the conflicts in former Yugoslavia are to be taken seriously and about whether membership, potential or actual, of the European Union involves obligations to the most basic concepts of justice and morality".

The action of the MEPs, less than two weeks before the Swedish referendum vote on EU-membership is likely to embarrass Prime Minister Carlsson's new social-democrat government.

 

Sources: Swedish press; European Parliament; FARR (Swedish Forum for Asylum Seekers and refugees).

Contact: Michael Williams, FARR, Box 137, S-776 23 Hedemora, Tel/Fax: +46/225 14777.