Migration is the movement of a person from one country or locality to another. People have moved since the beginning of time. Sometimes one moves simply out of curiosity or because of financial interests, and other times as a result of war or oppression in one’s home country. Right now, over 60 million people are currently fleeing their homes as a result of new or ongoing conflicts around the world. Half of them are children under tha age of 18 years old. This is the highest number of refugees worldwide since World War II.  Most of them are displaced within their own countries. 81% of refugees are hosted by developing countries compared to 70% ten years ago. The countries hosting the greatest number of refugees are Pakistan (1,6 million), followed by Iran (868800) and Jordan (613100), the numbers are from mid-2013. In this section you can find information about migration in Sweden and around the world.

Who Is a Refugee?

 The United Nations 1951 Refugee Convention defines who is classified as a refugee. It states that a refugee is a person “who is outside his or her country of nationality or habitual residence; has a well-founded fear of being persecuted because of his or her race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion; and is unable or unwilling to avail him- or herself of the protection of that country, or to return there, for fear of persecution.”

During large refugee streams (usually caused by conflicts or widespread violence) it isn’t possible—and never will be—to conduct individual interviews with each person who has passed the border seeking asylum. Normally it isn’t necessary either, since the reason the person is seeking asylum is obvious and the circumstances in their country well-known. As a result, these groups are often called ”prima facie” (obvious) refugees. UNHCR also sees these people as refugees.

Children who Flee?

“Can you imagine travelling for 36 hours under a truck with no food or water? Imagine what it was like for me to hang there, whilst small stones constantly sprayed up and hit me in the face? How much it hurt for all those hours? Can you understand that I just wanted to give up and let go?”

This is one child’s experience whilst fleeing to Sweden. Around 30 milion children under the age of 18 are refugees across the world. That’s 50% of all refugees. Children and young people who are forced to uproot from their homes, be separated from their friends and relatives, and perhaps even stop going to school. 21300 children under 18 are currently seeking asylum around the world, after having managed to flee to another country all alone. 7000 children came to Sweden to seek asylum 2014. An unaccompanied minor is a child who has arrived in Sweden alone, having been separated from their parents and other close relatives.

Being an unaccompanied minor is not an identity. It’s the experience of having come alone to a new country, which varies from person to person.  

Many unaccompanied minors describe themselves in terms of “before” and “after”, when sharing what it’s like to wait for a decision about residency. Before one receive the decision the incertitude can be very difficult and many asylum seekers suffer from the anxiety. After receiving a positive response and a residency permit life can still continue to be difficult. Even though one has permission to stay, many describe how thoughts that have previously been suppressed come to the surface. Thoughts about the future and family, and about friends’ situations. “The journey doesn’t end with a residency permit. That’s when the journey away from the past and from the memories begins. A battle for a life in a country you know nothing about.” (From UR’s documentary series about unaccompanied refugee children).

Seeking Asylum—A Human Right!

 When a person flees and arrives in a new country, he or she has to seek asylum to be able to stay in the new country. It’s not possible to seek asylum from abroad at an embassy, for example. The asylum-seeker has to first make it to the country where they hope to find protection. This means that many are forced to take huge risks in order to get to the country where they want to seek asylum. The ability to seek asylum is a human right! Sweden has ratified the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and has an obligation to take in people at the country’s border who are there to find protection, and it’s our responsibility to provide a safe-haven and ensure due process to asylum seekers. Sweden is not allowed to send a person back to a country or an area where they risk being killed, robbed of their freedom, or exposed to torture or physical punishment.


Refugees don’t just have the right to physical safety. They also have the same rights as others who are applying for a residency permit in Sweden. This means they have freedom of thought, freedom of movement, and the right not to be tortured or treated in a degrading manner. The same thing applies to their financial and social rights: refugees ought to have access to health care, schooling, and the right to work. Children and young people arriving in Sweden have the following rights:

• A child has the right to be with their parents. Applications for family reunion should be handled in a positive, humane, and efficient manner (the Convention on the Rights of the Child).

• A child has the right to engage in play and recreational activities, as well as participate in cultural life and the arts (the Convention on the Rights of the Child).

• The goal is that a decision about residency will be made within six months of the application reaching the Migration Board. Decisions about applications for asylum from unaccompanied refuge children should be made within three months at the most. (Regulatory Letter to the Migration Board 2007.)

• Children who come to Sweden seeking asylum are to receive protection and help, irrespective of whether the child comes alone, with their parents, or with another person (the Convention on the Rights of the Child).

• In asylum cases where a child is involved, the child’s health and development, and what’s best for them should be taken into consideration. The child has the right to be heard, unless it’s unsuitable, and the child’s own account should be taken into consideration (Aliens Act (2005:716).)

  • The child’s own reasons for seeking asylum are to be investigated and evaluated, and accounted for in the decision.
  • Unaccompanied children are to be allocated a special representative to act as a legal guardian as soon as possible. The special representative is responsible for the child’s personal matters and managing the child’s affairs (law (2005:429) about special representatives for unaccompanied children). Read about Jan-Olov who is a special representative.

Myths and Prejudices

 Myths and untruths are often spread about the costs and problems incurred by immigration and caused by minority groups, particularly on the internet. The government has collected some of the most common myths and prejudices and addressed them with facts. Read them here!

The Media’s Depiction of Refugees

Liv Stretmo, doctoral student in Sociology has spent 9 years (2000-20009) studying the public debate about unaccompanied refugee children arriving in Norway and Sweden. Stretmo has found that there are dominant attitudes towards unaccompanied refugee children as a group in our society. The media often likes to describe unaccompanied children as either traumatised children in need of protection and care, or as financial migrants, who are actually not children but pretending to be, in order to stay and find work and make money. This is a picture that doesn’t correspond with reality.

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