On 10 December, the UNHCR Regional Representation for Northern Europe organized a breakfast seminar on statelessness in Sweden, bringing together not only civil society actors but also state representatives. A new civil society initiative was also introduced during the seminar – the Swedish Organization Against Statelessness. Discussions and connections for cooperation were made and hopefully this will shed more light on issues faced by stateless people in Sweden. The event builds on previous awareness-raising work undertaken in Sweden, included as reported on this blog.
The UNHCR Regional Representation for Northern Europe participated through their statelessness consultant, Dr. Katalin Berényi and the Deputy Regional Representative Wilfried Buchhorn, as well as their communications and intern team. Currently in Sweden, 19,782 persons were officially registered as stateless, while 12,037 were registered with “unknown nationality”, one of the highest in Europe.
Personal testimonies and stories on what it is like to be stateless in Sweden were shared at the seminar. Lynn Al Khatib, who has previously written for this blog, was there in person to share her testimony, while some of the testimonies were read by Jehna Al-Moushahidi. Many of the stories were similar in the sense that the people are stuck in limbo, where they have a deportation order, but no other country is willing to accept them. The burden of proof is often on the individual, which was discussed in regards to the Swedish law. The Swedish Refugee Law Center, one of several European Network on Statelessness members present at the event, was represented by lawyer Fanny Lingqvist, who talked about the recent case law in reference to statelessness in Sweden. She mentioned the temporary law which has been extended until 2021 was an obstacle in obtaining citizenship. Permanent residence is a basic requirement for citizenship which has been considered one of the great problems for stateless persons in Sweden, as the new temporary law mostly grants temporary residence permits. The Ministry of Justice representative mentioned that there is a new citizenship law that is going to be investigated in 2020.
Children that have been granted nationality in Sweden (that previously were stateless) can also not apply for family reunification, which means that they are left with the impossible choice of applying for citizenship or reuniting with their family. There is also no general procedure for determination of statelessness and many stateless persons in Sweden are left at risk not to be identified as stateless, which denies them special protection. Stateless people that have been denied asylum and are to be deported also gain limited financial support, even if their deportation order cannot practically be executed, which leaves them in limbo and at risk of destitution. Despite some research, including a mapping study by UNHCR, there is also generally very little knowledge on statelessness in Sweden.
This is a gap that the Swedish Organization Against Statelessness is hoping to fill. By having a dialogue with stateless people and amplifying their voices through an advisory council, the organization hopes to advocate for both legal and policy change. Through the breakfast seminar, many new connections were made and hopefully, with joint efforts by both the civil society (including ENS members) and state representatives, it will be possible to highlight statelessness as an issue in Sweden, and hopefully solve it as well.
Cover photo: Karl Baron Flickr - Creative Commons)