“Everyone has the right to a nationality”

Statelessness in Sweden and the case of unreturnable Moroccan "street children" left at risk of statelessness

15 November 2017 | Isabelle Rothstein, MSc Global Migration (UCL) & Legal Volunteer (Asylum Aid)
Mapping Statelessness in Sweden - publication cover

Almost a year has passed since UNHCR published its 2016 report Mapping Statelessness in Sweden, which critiqued Sweden for its lack of an official statelessness determination procedure. In the months that have passed since UNHCR published the report the country’s treatment, as well as general awareness of the issue has remained largely unchanged. The situation for those affected by statelessness seeking protection in Sweden has actually worsened due to the introduction of a temporary three-year immigration law, which has drastically restricted protection avaialble under existing immigration regulations. 

Although Sweden has ratified both the 1954 and 1961 Conventions, and has pledged during the 2011 UNHCR Ministerial Meeting to address statelessness through its foreign policy, the county is unwilling to establish any means for individuals to be recognised and protected on the basis of their statelessness. Not having an official statelessness determination procedure means that individuals who are unable to return face difficulties being recognised as stateless or granted protection. This can be particularly devastating for individuals who do not fit any of the refugee grounds set out by the Geneva Convection nor qualify for protection under Article 3 of the ECHR, but who nevertheless are unable to avail themselves of the protection of a home state.

Without access to a statelessness determination procedure, such individuals are forced to go through the asylum process only to receive a negative decision, before they may be granted residency due to their inability to return, a process that may take several years. Individuals who are unable to return to their country of origin, or country of last residency, can be granted permanent or temporary residency if there are practical impediments to their removal, such as the country of origin being unwilling to accept the individual. While this is not a recognition of one’s statelessness, it is the only means of protection available in Sweden. However, this ground for protection has extremely high requirements of cooperation set out by two guiding rulings (MIG 2007:46 and MIG 2009:13) by the Swedish Migration Appeal Court. Both rulings emphasise that it is the claimants’ responsibility to provide proof of their inability to return. They also emphasise that refused asylum seekers are obliged to leave Sweden by themselves, and that it is not the responsibility of the Swedish authorities to implement the removal decision. As a result it is extremely hard to satisfy the requirement unless the state in question openly admits that it will not accept the individual.

Unreturnable Moroccan ‘street children’ at risk of statelessness are denied protection in Sweden

One group affected by this predicament was the research subject of my recent master’s dissertation, which looked at the case of young refused asylum seekers from Morocco living in Sweden who were unable to return. Moroccan children and young adults also known as “street children” - living in a situation characterised by homelessness and destitution in Morocco - were often at risk of statelessness. This was due to the fact that they were not registered as citizens in Morocco nor issued identification documents by the Moroccan Embassy in Sweden. When conducting this research I found that Sweden, along with other European countries, has in 2016 developed cooperation with Moroccan authorities in order to facilitate return of Moroccan refused asylum seekers. An important part of the cooperation is the utilisation of the Moroccan Civil Registration Database to identify those registered as citizens who can be returned. According to a migration expert in the Civil Service interviewed for my research, Sweden has utilised the database to identify approximately 100 individuals, comparing their fingerprints and identity to the information in the database. According to the Civil Servant, circa 60 to 65 percent were able to be identified and thereby returned to Morocco. The remaining 35 to 40 percent had not been found in the database and thus remain as undocumented migrants residing in Sweden. 

For a number of years Swedish authorities had difficulties obtaining identity information on refused asylum seekers from Morocco, which has complicated their removal. The research reveals that Sweden’s cooperation with Morocco and the use of the Civil Registration Database is solely focused on identifying those who can be retuned. It does not however address the issue of regularising those not registered as citizens, unable to return and thus at risk of statelessness. The situation of Moroccan youths who are left in limbo is not unique and affects numerous other refused asylum seeker.

Back in 2012 Sebastian Köhn wrote this blog post for the European Network on Statelessness, berating Sweden for its lack of an effective protection system. It seems that not much has happened since and if Sweden is serious about fulfilling its obligations under the 1954 and 1961 Conventions, it must introduce a dedicated statelessness determination procedure without delay.

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