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How Sweden should implement the EU migration pact

Children in a refugee camp.

On May 14, the EU Council gave the green light to the EU migration and asylum pact, which the Swedish EU presidency sees as the crowning achievement. However, the Pact paves the way for new rules that will have a profound – and largely negative – impact on people seeking refuge in the EU. The extent of that impact will depend on how countries implement it. The Swedish government must ensure that its asylum procedures are fair and that it does not violate human rights.

In 2017, Swedish political parties on both the right and left agreed that the best way to fairly manage asylum seekers coming to the EU was a quota system. The consensus was that each EU country should take in its fair share of asylum seekers, so that no country, especially those on the EU’s external borders, would come under undue pressure. When it was suggested to EU Member States at the time that EU Member States could buy themselves off from taking in asylum seekers from other EU countries, a representative of the current governing coalition expressed this widely held view and said: “The EU should not put a price tag on people” and declared the buyout option “unethical”.

Today the government says it plans to use the Pact’s option of ‘paying’ to avoid participation in the redistribution system. This forces countries such as Italy, Greece, Spain, Malta and Cyprus to absorb a disproportionate number of asylum seekers coming to the EU, and risks making the number of arrivals seem unmanageable if a fair distribution across the bloc is both reasonable and workable.

In addition to the fact that the Pact as a whole does not provide for meaningful solidarity between EU member states, it risks violating rights. The new EU rules will make it harder for people to claim asylum, easier for governments to make hasty decisions on asylum claims and prompt authorities to detain families for weeks. The changes encourage EU countries to send people back to countries outside the EU, such as Serbia or Tunisia, where they may have transited to Europe and where they could face abuse, or to send them directly back to their home country without the chance to apply. for asylum.

The Tidö parties have already made it clear that they want to reduce Sweden’s asylum law ‘to the EU minimum’. The pact has set a new, even lower standard that if introduced will lead to human rights violations and legally uncertain asylum procedures. Applying the lowest possible standard risks leading to rights violations in individual cases and exposing Sweden to legal proceedings. Sweden should use the room for maneuver that Member States have under the Pact to resist the race to the bottom by upholding legal certainty and respect for human rights, including the right to seek asylum, in Sweden.

To protect the rights and lives of asylum seekers and other migrants, Sweden must:

  • Minimize the use of detention or detention-like situations at all stages of the asylum process, especially for people with vulnerabilities, including mental health problems, and refrain from immigration detention of children. This means that Sweden must implement robust measures during the screening process to identify people who should not be detained, and create an effective control mechanism to ensure that the system works.
  • Ensure that all asylum procedures are legally secure, avoid substandard fast-track border procedures as provided for in the Pact, and guarantee in national law the right to appeal while remaining in the country. This is critical to ensure a fair investigation into a person’s need for protection and to prevent unsafe returns, even before a person’s appeal against a denial has been heard.
  • Remember not to send anyone to home countries where they may face serious harm, or to third countries where they may be subject to chain deportations without their asylum claims being fairly considered. Sweden should insist on clear principles on what constitutes a safe third country for the return of asylum seekers, based on the law, on the country’s ability to provide effective protection to asylum seekers and on a person’s meaningful ties to that country .
  • Exercise extreme caution when returning an asylum seeker to supposedly safe parts of an otherwise unsafe country and should never do so when agents of the home government are the persecutors. For example, Human Rights Watch research has shown that some refugees returning to Damascus and surrounding areas of Syria – which were considered free from widespread violence – were arbitrarily detained, kidnapped, conscripted, tortured and killed.

Many of the new rules, if not checked by rational and humane considerations, will fail to achieve their stated goals and instead simply cause enormous suffering. Tough deterrence measures do not work in the long term. They only make fleeing to a safe place more dangerous and increase the chance that people in need of protection will be sent back to dangerous situations. There is a way to govern migration that respects people’s right to seek asylum and recognizes their dignity, aspirations and contributions. Sweden can and must ensure that those who come to our borders receive the human rights that every human being is entitled to.

John Stauffer, Legal Director, Civil Rights Defenders

Judith Sunderland, associate director, Europe and Central Asia Division, Human Rights Watch

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