Sweden scraps automatic asylum for Syrians after six years

The Swedish Migration Agency will no longer issue residence permits to all refugees coming from Syria, ending a generous policy which over the last six years has seen over 100,000 Syrians granted asylum in the country.

Sweden scraps automatic asylum for Syrians after six years
Syrians greeted by a Swedish migration officer in Malmö in 2015. Photo: Ola Torkelsson/TT
In September 2013, Sweden was the first country in the world to open its arms fully to those fleeing the country's brutal civil war, with the agency ruling that all Syrians arriving in Sweden would be eligible for permanent residency. 
But on Thursday, the agency announced in a press release that it was bringing the policy to an end. 
“We had a very special situation in Syria and a special assessment which essentially meant that everyone was able to get a residency permit due to the general situation in the country,” the agency's legal director Fredrik Beijer said in a video posted online. 
“We now assess that the situation in Syria has become slightly better – in any case we see that the number of deaths has decreased so much in Syria that the general risk of coming to harm has decreased. We must therefore return to the standard practice that we had before…and we are doing this now.” 
In its new legal assessment, the agency said it now judged that people living in the Syrian capital of Damascus, and in the nearby southern provinces of Rif Dimashq, Dara’a, Suwayda, and Quneitra could no longer be considered at risk simply because of where they lived.
The same went for people living in Hassakah in the country's far northeastern corner, which is part of the de facto Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, or Rojava. Those living in and around the port city of Latakia were also not deemed eligible for asylum.  
The agency stressed that the new legal assessment would apply only to Syrians newly arriving in the country, and would not affect those waiting for a ruling or seeking to renew temporary residence permits. 
It did also not mean that those living in the more peaceful areas would necessarily be denied asylum. 

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“Their individual reasons are now much more important than they were before,” Beijer explained. “Now it will become very important who you are, where you come from, and what risk you are facing.” 

Below is a map that was included in the new assessment, showing the six districts in red whose inhabitants could still expect to receive asylum, and those in yellow where a decision was no longer effectively automatic. 

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Denmark pays 71 Syrians to leave country

71 Syrians have been paid since May 1st this year by the Danish state to leave the country and return home, figures from the Danish Refugee Council show.

Denmark pays 71 Syrians to leave country
File photo: Mathias Løvgreen Bojesen/Ritzau Scanpix

The figures were reported by newspaper Kristeligt Dagblad on Friday.

Each left the country with at least 140,000 kroner paid to them by the Danish state through an incentive scheme introduced under the previous government.

None had left the country under the scheme prior to May 1st.

New rules took effect this year, meaning that Syrian refugees who live in Denmark do not immediately lose their right to residence if they return home.

They now have up to a year in which they can change their minds about the decision. The addition of this clause has encouraged people to take up the option, according to the Danish Refugee Council (DRC).

The organization is responsible for advising refugees who are thinking of returning to their homelands.

“Many people simply feel that it is too difficult to enter the jobs market and get established in Denmark,” the council’s head of asylum Eva Singer told Kristeligt Dagblad.

“The money makes a difference to their considerations but also means thay can change their minds if Syria turns out to be too dangerous,” Singer added.

Syrians are not the only nationality encompassed by the incentive programme.

During the first ten months of this year, 438 refugees and migrants left Denmark with such a payment from the state.

The Ministry of Immigration and Integration told Kristeligt Dagblad that it expects to spend 102 million kroner this year paying refugees to return home.

That total has been received with concern by the anti-immigration Danish People’s Party, which voted for the legislation providing for it.

“It’s good news when refugees go home. But in this case it’s also a strange piece of news,” the party’s immigration spokesperson Pia Kjærsgaard told Kristeligt Dagblad.

“It’s a very high amount and I understand if people are wondering about it,” she added.

Rasmus Stoklund, spokesperson for the governing Social Democrats, said he would take a look at the amount, but reconfirmed the party is in support of the programme.

READ ALSO: Danish refugee board allows Syrians to retain asylum status