One of the fastest growing refugee groups in Sweden is the so-called "unaccompanied refugee children." The number of children who seek asylum has exploded over the last ten years. It is presumed that the reason for this is that children are granted asylum much quicker than adults, and that Sweden does not verify the age of these "children." Refugees are also allowed to bring their entire family to Sweden once they get residency status -- even if you claimed to be alone in the world when you arrived.
In June alone, 1500 asylum-seeking children came to Sweden; authorities are now struggling to find accommodations for them.
Asylum-seeking children are a relatively new occurrence among the Swedish migration flora. The earliest figures are from 2004, when 338 came to Sweden. Ten years later, the number increased to 7,049, a figure that will most likely be even higher this year.
The children come mostly from Syria, Eritrea, Afghanistan and Somalia, but as very few possess any kind of identification papers, authorities really do not know where they are from.
The problem is that they are neither unaccompanied, nor refugees, nor children. In many instances, they are considerably older than 18 (as can clearly be seen in pictures); and more often than not, they are very aggressive young men between the ages of 20 and 30. Everyone knows that their chances of getting asylum increase drastically if they claim to be under 18.
The official Swedish term "unaccompanied refugee children" is seductive. It leads your thoughts toward a 7-year-old in ragged clothing, holding a beaten-up teddy bear -- a barefoot child in the world.
Older Swedes inevitably think of the Swedish efforts to help the Finnish Winter War children who, in the beginning of World War II, came pouring into Sweden. In 1939-1940, about 9,000 Finnish children were placed in Swedish foster homes, while the Finns fought the invading Soviet Union in the Winter War, two months into the Second World War. A few days after the war ended in March 1940, authorities started shipping the children back to Finland. By mid-June, virtually all of them had returned to Finland.
Swedish journalists do everything in their power to maintain this image of "refugee children." One of the more grotesque examples is from 2011, when a reporter from Malmö's free daily paper, City, visited a housing project for young men, and placed a stuffed polar bear doll in the arms of Ahmad Farid from Afghanistan. Ahmad is said to be 16 years old, but looks considerably older. So to make the Swedes perceive him as a defenseless child, the journalists use the stuffed animal as a prop. But not even the Swedes are that naïve. The picture is one of the most commonly used in alternative media, to prove what is commonly termed "the unaccompanied refugee children fraud."
So why would men between 20 and 30 years of age choose to pose as children and be put in foster homes and schools for teenagers? The answer is that "children" get their applications fast-tracked, and 75% receive permanent residency status in Sweden.
Another example of Swedish journalists' ineptitude in distinguishing children from adults comes from the daily, Kristianstadsbladet. In 2012, the paper told the story of "the fastest 14-year-old in Sweden," Saad Alsaud, reported to hold the record in the 100-meter dash for Swedish 14-year-olds (11.82 seconds). In the picture, you can see the "14-year-old" running with actual children around 10 years of age -- except he looks more as if he is their father than a few years older than them.
Saad Alsaud (left frame, center), an unaccompanied "child refugee," is pictured in 2012, when he was reported to be Sweden's fastest "14-year-old". In 2011, a newspaper reporter from Malmö shared a teddy bear and some laughs with "16-year-old" Ahmad Farid (right frame), an unaccompanied "child refugee" from Afghanistan.
It is considered unreasonable for children to wait longer than six months for a decision on whether they get to stay or not, and thus it is a huge advantage, when seeking asylum, to claim that you are under 18. As children cannot be placed in regular refugee accommodations, they end up either in foster homes with Swedish families, or in institutions for young people with social problems, such as drug abuse. This costs the Swedish taxpayer up to 5,000 kronor (about $580 USD) per person, per day. In some cases, counties have paid 70,000 kronor ($8,100 USD) a month for a one-bedroom apartment.
An employee at one of the facilities for "unaccompanied children" spoke anonymously to alternative media about the fraud. "Isak" (a pseudonym) had this to say, when he spoke to Dispatch International in September 2014:
"I'm risking my job by telling you this. ... Many of us are under state orders to keep quiet. It's professional misconduct to contact, for example, immigration services with information about someone lying on their asylum application. Imagine being in that situation! Ask yourselves if you would risk your family's financial position and your career, if you're wondering why I've kept quiet for so long. This is the reason why so few dare tell. However, internally, a majority of the supervisors at the asylum seekers' homes talk to each other about the fact that the "children" are in fact adults, as if it is perfectly natural. But if what I'm saying now garners any attention, you can be sure some tabloid will find and talk to the minority of supervisors who are not yet aware of the scope of this deception -- you do not see it until you have worked for a few years in the business, you gradually realize what is going on. It is a process."
In June alone, 1500 "children" arrived in Sweden -- the highest number ever for a single month. Several new residences are being hurriedly opened, while staff on holiday were forced back to work immediately to care for the new arrivals. The situation is particularly urgent in Gothenburg, a city that has received 403 new children so far this year.
Louise Parbring, temporary Director of Integration in Gothenburg, told the daily, GT, about the situation: "It is an extreme increase, far higher than we could ever imagine. We have an incredibly urgent situation in the city if we are to meet up with, and take care of, them." Thus, Parbring hopes that the denizens of Gothenburg will open their homes. "We shall need families who can take care of them. And volunteers for different activities at the homes would be great."
But the problems are not just about taxpayers' money and interrupted holidays for the staff. During the last few years, violent incidents at the homes where the "children" live have become more and more prevalent. In December 2014, even Swedish public television, otherwise known to do its best to hide the truth, reported about a 15-year-old from Afghanistan who had beaten and threatened the staff as well as other residents. He had also, among other matters, choked a 14-year-old and shoved his face in a bowl of ice cream. He also tried to molest the girls at the home; several were so scared of him that they ran away.
Finally, the 15-year-old was moved to his own apartment, and is now well known by the local police.
Some "children" leave the homes willingly. A couple of years ago, eleven children disappeared from Notgårdshemmet in Ludvika, reportedly because they were "dissatisfied with the food and the lack of transportation and activities." The incident caused the daily newspaper Dalarnas Tidning to try to get to the bottom of what the conditions are really like for the "children." Are they truly living under such dire conditions that running away is a logical solution? Bo Sundqvist, head of the county Culture and Leisure Administration, and responsible for integration issues, had this to say:
"All the people living at Notgårdshemmet have their own room with a bed, desk and chair. They get a bus pass every month; bicycles and computers are available on loan at the home. But they have to pay for things like mobile phones themselves."
The reporter wrote:
"In addition to room and board, they get about 1900 kronor ($220 USD) a month. Of this, 1050 kronor are a regular children's or student's subsidy, while the other 855 kronor are a special subsidy for unaccompanied children who lack parents."
The reporter's claim that they lack parents is not quite true, though. Let's go back to Ahmad from Afghanistan, the guy with the stuffed polar bear. Ahmad told City that he and his family lived "under threat" in Kabul, and that his family decided to "pay a trafficker to bring the then-16-year-old Ahmad to safety. Safety as in Europe."
And that is where Ahmad's memory ends. City states laconically that Ahmad cannot remember how long the trip took, or the name of the city he arrived from when he got off the train at Malmö Central Station. However, he knew exactly where to go: Immigration Services at Celsiusgatan, where he submitted a claim for asylum. The newspaper skirts the issue of how this was possible. Other countries have been successful in using various methods to establish the age of people claiming to be children, but this practice is considered invasive and "bad" in Sweden these days. Recently, a survey in Denmark showed that 72% of asylum-seeker "children" were actually adults. The fact that Denmark carries out these controls could explain why only 818 children sought asylum there last year, compared to Sweden's 7,049. Finland and Norway also conduct age tests, and estimate that 66% of those tested are over 18.
In September 2014, social commentator Merit Wager wrote:
"That there should be such a huge discrepancy between Sweden and other Nordic countries when it comes to the age of unaccompanied 'children' seems highly unlikely."
Wager quoted Anders Thomas, who worked for the Immigration Service for eight years:
"It was a bizarre experience, to sit there and investigate '16-year-olds' who were obviously closer to my age. Back then, you had the option to do age verification; that is not the case today, when pretty much all the people who claim to be children are let in. What happens when these grown men start high school along with real 16-17-year-olds?"
In 2013, Wager wrote on her blog that as many as 86% of those who come to Sweden claiming to be children may be adults. That year, 134 asylum-seeking children were age tested -- and 116 turned out to be over 18. The other 1072 "children" were never tested.
"The cost of the 'unaccompanieds' is huge for the 86 percent adults seeking asylum as 'children', if one calculates from the numbers given by Immigration Services, and applies this to all the people claiming to be under 18. There is no doubt we are talking about hundreds of millions of kronor every year. Not for these 116, but if we assume this is true of 86 percent of all the alleged underage people who come to Sweden (as of September 2013, 2558 in total), the numbers are staggering. Staggering!"
And the numbers, to be sure, are staggering. In a November 2014 article in the daily tabloid, Expressen, Immigration Service press officer Fredrik Bengtsson admits that the unaccompanied refugee children are the next big billion-dollar industry in Sweden. And the people who profit from the "children" are in many cases private entrepreneurs who provide housing. With an average cost of 2000 kronor (about $233 USD) per child each day, the 7,000 refugee "children" who came to Sweden last year cost 5.1 billion kronor (nearly $595 million USD).
The latest jolting story about an unaccompanied refugee child concerns a 17-year-old who was sent as an "anchor" to Sweden in 2013. His family reportedly paid about $11,000 to send him to Sweden; once he got residency status, they would execute their plan for the rest of the family to follow. But the 17-year-old was not content with his family merely being allowed to come. He thought Swedish taxpayers ought to pay for their trip. He sent a bill for airfare to social services, totaling 25,000 kronor ($2,900 USD), which was rejected. Not to be discouraged, the 17-year-old appealed the decision -- and won.
A relatively new situation is of children -- genuine underage children -- from Morocco. But as Morocco is not at war, the children have no grounds for asylum. However, before their applications are denied, they often run away from the refugee homes, to roam the streets of Stockholm. Last year 381 Moroccan children sought asylum in Sweden. They are usually street children from Tangiers or Casablanca, who started doing drugs at an early age, and they distrust all authorities.
Police officers Christian Frödén and Mikael Lins, who work in Stockholm, told Swedish public television SVT on May 10 2015:
"A low estimate is that we have 200 kids from Morocco roaming the central city evenings and nights, committing crimes. They are ages nine and up. In many cases, they smoke hashish and are completely uncomprehending of the Swedish attitude towards drugs."
The Moroccan boys commit crimes such as theft, petty larceny, pickpocketing and muggings, but the authorities do not know how to handle the kids who decline the help offered by the Swedish state.
"We can lock them up in institutions, but that is just short term, to save individual lives. I think we need national co-ordination to get at this problem," Christian Frödén says.
The Immigration Service states that they intend to consult with other European countries and "maybe create some new type of home for these children."
As usual, Sweden demands that its taxpayers open their wallets. Far be it from the authorities to put their foot down and refuse asylum to Moroccan street children and full-grown men posing as children, something that would bring down the number of asylum applications from "unaccompanied children" in no time.