Why should Sweden accept refugees?

Country Profiles Migration: Data - History - Politics

Bernd Parusel

To person

Dr. Bernd Parusel is a political scientist and migration and asylum expert. He works for the European Migration Network (EMN) at the Swedish Migration Agency and as Research Secretary at the Swedish Delegation for Migration Studies (DELMI) in Stockholm.
Email: [email protected]

Sweden is one of the countries that receives the most asylum seekers in the European Union. However, the significant increase in asylum migration in recent years poses challenges for the reception system. This applies in particular to the accommodation of asylum seekers and recognized refugees.

Refugees board the ferry to Sweden in Kiel, 2015. Despite its geographical peripheral location, Sweden is one of the main destination countries for people seeking protection in the European Union. (& copy picture-alliance / dpa)

Despite its geographical peripheral location, Sweden is one of the main destination countries for asylum seekers in the European Union. In 2014, 81,300 asylum applications were registered in Sweden, an increase of 50 percent compared to the previous year when 54,259 asylum applications were counted. The number of applications from 2014 is the highest number since 1992, when around 84,000 people applied for asylum in Sweden, particularly due to the war in the former Yugoslavia. In a European comparison, Sweden registered the highest number of asylum applications after Germany (202,815) in 2014; measured by its population size, it even topped the list of main destination countries for asylum seekers in the EU (8.4 asylum applications per 1,000 inhabitants). [1] The five largest groups of asylum seekers were Syrians (38 percent of all asylum seekers), Eritreans (14 percent), stateless people (ten percent), and Somalis (six percent) and Afghans (four percent). [2]

Reception and accommodation of asylum seekers

Against the background of the rapidly increasing number of asylum seekers, topics such as admission regulations, integration measures and the unequal distribution of asylum seekers among the EU member states [3] have been the subject of much discussion in Swedish society. Sweden has a comprehensive system of reception and accommodation for newly arriving asylum seekers, which is put under pressure in times of high asylum applications. The reception system is mainly administered by the migration authority. While an asylum application is being examined, the applicant is assigned to a reception unit that provides them with living space and supports them in covering their livelihoods. There are two different types of accommodation: In most cases, asylum seekers are either accommodated in an apartment rented by the authorities in a normal residential area, or in a reception center. Asylum seekers who cannot support themselves receive state support in the form of cash. Emergency medical care is also guaranteed. Families stay together and generally do not have to share an apartment with other asylum seekers. The municipalities in Sweden decide for themselves whether and how many asylum seekers they want to accept annually and record this decision in an agreement with the migration authority (see also the chapter on integration policy). There is no mandatory distribution key. If the places that the municipalities make available for asylum seekers are not sufficient, the migration authority can rent housing on the free market without the consent of the responsible municipalities. These can be youth hostels, hotels, barracks or other appropriate accommodation such as holiday homes anywhere in the country.

As an alternative to the accommodation provided by the migration authority, asylum seekers can also look for their own accommodation. Since most of them do not have sufficient means to finance the rent of an apartment, they often stay with friends or relatives. Those who live with friends or family members receive financial benefits similar to those who live in government-provided housing. [4] On the one hand, this reception system offers a comparatively high degree of flexibility in times of fluctuating numbers of asylum seekers and promotes distribution across the entire country. On the other hand, it also fuels regularly recurring political conflicts, since richer communities in and around Stockholm and in southern Sweden are less willing to provide housing for asylum seekers than smaller towns and communities in remote areas. The government has tried to counteract this attitude by providing financial incentives for communities that take in an above-average number of asylum seekers. Mandatory allocation keys have also been proposed from time to time.

Asylum decisions

In 2014 the Swedish Migration Agency decided on 53,503 asylum applications, around 3,000 more than in 2013. In 31,220 cases (58 percent) the decision was positive. Refugee status was granted in 34 percent of the positive cases, and subsidiary protection in 59 percent of the cases. In another five percent of the cases, a residence permit was issued due to particularly stressful personal circumstances.

Looking at the ten largest groups of origin of asylum seekers, the recognition rate for Syrians was the highest at 90 percent. If such cases are excluded in which the migration authority did not examine the asylum application, for example because the responsibility for the examination lay with another EU member state (so-called "Dublin cases"), the protection rate for Syrian nationals was almost 100 Percent. Eritreans also had high protection rates.

Other important nationalities with high protection rates were stateless asylum seekers (80 percent) and Afghans (60 percent). In contrast, almost all asylum applications from Albanians and Serbs were negative. [5]
Figure 3: Number of new asylum applications 2005-2014. Source: Migrationsverket (Swedish Migration Agency). (& copy bpb)

Unaccompanied minor refugees

A comparative analysis of the asylum applications reveals a striking peculiarity: the number of unaccompanied minors asylum seekers in Sweden is very high compared to the country's population. In 2014, the number of asylum-seeking minors who came to Sweden without parents or adult guardians was almost eight times as high as in 2008. In 2014, 7,050 unaccompanied minors applied for asylum in Sweden. That was the highest value in the European Union. Germany, which registered the second highest number in the EU comparison, received 4,400 asylum applications from unaccompanied minors. [6] The question of why Sweden in particular is an attractive destination for unaccompanied minors asylum seekers is not easy to answer because there is no factual evidence of this. However, it can be assumed that the comparatively good standards of accommodation and care, good prospects for protection and the generally child-friendly social climate in Sweden act as pull factors. [7]


In addition to asylum seekers who come to Sweden independently and apply for asylum there, the country has a long tradition of accepting refugees as part of state-controlled resettlement programs. In Sweden one speaks of "quota refugees" in this regard (kvotflyktingar). The government sets an annual quota on the basis of which 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 to which Sweden grants protection and a right of residence. Over the past few years, around 1,900 refugees have been accepted through such programs every year. In 2014, most of these refugees were resettled from Iran, Egypt, Kenya, Uganda, Sudan, Lebanon, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Israel and Turkey, with Syrians, Afghans and Eritreans being among the largest nationalities. Before they arrive in Sweden, refugees admitted to resettlement programs are given orientation courses on Swedish culture and life in Sweden and the municipality in which they will be accommodated is determined. This is done on the basis of agreements between the migration authority and the municipalities. Remote regions of Sweden that are sparsely populated and threatened with depopulation, especially in the north and northwest of the country, are often very active in providing housing for newly settled refugees. [8]

This text is part of the country profile Sweden.