Alternatives to Detention in Sweden

Reception in the Community

In Sweden, asylum seekers are taken to an open reception centre where they are registered and screened for health or other support needs. They are registered on arrival and issued with a plastic photo identity card. This is used by immigration to track the case and used by the asylum seeker to access services in the community.

A caseworker explains the Refugee Status Determination process and their rights and entitlements in Sweden. After several weeks, asylum seekers are transferred to a regional area and housed in flats and apartments close to a Swedish Migration Board reception office. Asylum seekers can live independently if they can pay their own rent. Asylum seekers are provided with a daily allowance of up to SEK71 (approximately USD11) for single adults (less for adults sharing accommodation, and children). Emergency medical and dental proce-dures are provided at low cost, about SEK50 (approxi-mately USD8). Like Swedish children, asylum-seeking children are entitled to free medical coverage.

Asylum seekers can request the assistance of a lawyer, who is appointed and paid for by the Swedish Migration Board. Asylum seekers who can prove their identity, or who are cooperating with authorities to establish their identity, are entitled to work.Asylum seekers have regular meetings with caseworkers appointed by the Swedish Migration Board. Caseworkers can refer clients for medical care, counselling or other services where required.

They also provide “motivational counselling” to prepare the asylum seeker for all possible immigration outcomes, and assess the risk of absconding due to a negative asylum decision. There are three options on negative decisions: voluntary repatriation, escort by caseworkers or transfer to the authority of the police (forced return). Incentives are provided to those who opt for voluntarily repatriation, including financial assistance, and travel arranged by the caseworker and paid for by the Swedish Migration Board.

Where there is no risk of absconding, failed asylum seekers are given between 14 and 30 calendar days to leave the country independently. In 2012, 68% of third country nationals ordered to leave the country departed voluntarily or through an Assisted Voluntary Return program.

Those who do not cooperate with independent departure options can have conditions introduced including reporting requirements or reduced benefits.

Government-funded and administered case management program (case resolution and material needs)

In Sweden, asylum-seekers are appointed two case workers after registration. A first case worker is responsible for the asylum process: he/she conducts interviews with the applicant in order to investigate his/her claim for asylum and to prepare the decision that will be taken by the executive officer of the Swedish Migration Agency. A second case worker supports the applicant in solving everyday life questions (daily allowance, special allowance, school, housing etc.), referring him/her to medical care, counselling or other services where required.

Located at a Reception Unit near the residence of the applicant, he/she is also tasked to inform the applicant on decisions by the Swedish Migration Agency or Migration Courts. This second case worker also provides “motivational counselling” in order to prepare the asylum-seeker for all possible migration outcomes, and assesses the risk of absconding on a negative asylum decision. In the return process, he/she organises formalized contacts to discuss return. This caseworker system is considered a factor that has positively affected the voluntariness of departure from Sweden.

Monitoring – Reporting Requirements/Individual Undertaking – Supervision

In Sweden, supervision can be applied by the Swedish Migration Agency or the Swedish Police to persons liable for detention. Under a supervision order, the person is obliged to report to the police authority or to the Swedish Migration Agency at certain times.

To make it as convenient as possible for the person subject to the supervision order, the reporting may be at the police station/Swedish Migration Agency office situated closest to where he/she is residing. An individual may also be required to surrender his/her passport or other identity document. The decision on supervision or detention can be appealed against at any time.  The supervision order is valid for six months and can be prolonged.

Comprehensive reception and care arrangements in the community for UAMS

Swedish law provides that all children should receive the same level of care, irrespective of whether they are citizens or foreigners. UMC are usually accommodated in a children’s home (‘home for care or residence’ or ‘HVB housing’ which may be special housing established specifically for the reception of UMC) or a foster family (foster families are drawn from the same pool of families that care for Swedish children in need).

While  their  applications are  being  processed,  UMC asylum seekers are treated as “asylum  applicants” and provided access  to  a  certain number  of  rights,  such  as  the  rights  to accommodation, schooling, health and dental care. As with adult asylum applicants, they are provided with the LMA identity card. Pursuant to the Act on Guardians Ad Litem for Unaccompanied children, a temporary legal representative or guardian ad litem will be appointed by the Chief Guardian to represent and assist the UMC during the asylum procedure, and to generally look after the child’s interests during this period.

The role of the guardian ad litem is to act both as a legal guardian and custodian of the child, with the right and duty to decide all matters relating to the UMC’s affairs, however, this does not extend to daily care and supervision of the child.

Detention Conditions That Respect Dignity and Well-being

In Sweden, detention may only be used for people who are in the process of being deported because they have not complied with a final negative decision requiring them to depart the country. Detention centres are small, closed accommodation facilities. Residents can move freely within the facility. Bedrooms are shared between two to four people.

There are lounge areas with televisions, computer rooms with access to the Internet, and gyms. Most rooms have windows looking out to garden areas. Supervised access to a central courtyard provides limited access to an outdoor area. Residents can use mobile phones that do not have an in-built camera.

Staff work to build a culture of dignity and respect with clients. They do not wear security uniforms or carry weapons. Rooms for visitors are furnished with tables, chairs, lounges and toys for children. Two non-government organisations have unrestricted access to the centres to support the residents , provide additional activities and informally monitor the conditions of detention.

These conditions have been found to be of very high standard by international observers.

Find out more: 

Read the Report to the Swedish Government on the Visit to Sweden Carried Out by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) from 9 to 18 June 2009.

Grant Mitchell, Asylum Seekers in Sweden: An Integrated Approach to Reception, Detention, Determination, Integration and Return, (2001).

There are alternatives cover

Over the past five years, the IDC has undertaken a program of research to identify and describe a number of positive alternatives to immigration detention (‘alternatives’) that respect fundamental rights, are less expensive and are equally or more effective than traditional border controls.

This research, entitled There are alternatives, provides readers with the guidance needed to successfully avoid unnecessary detention and to ensure community options are as effective as possible.

This text was published in September 2015.