UNHCR welcomes Sweden’s decision to re-introduce access to family reunion

UNHCR, The UN Refugee Agency, warmly welcomes Sweden’s important step to re-introduce the right to family reunification for persons granted subsidiary protection.

The reunion of families separated by conflict is key for successful integration and serves as an important safe and legal pathway to help family members, especially women and children, avoid having to risk their lives in dangerous journeys to join their loved ones.

UNHCR considers the humanitarian and protection needs of persons granted subsidiary status to be the same as Convention refugees, including the right to unite with your family. Reunification with family members is crucial for refugees to rebuild their lives and integrate into their new society, as well as an important safe and legal pathway of admission”, said Henrik M. Nordentoft, UNHCR Representative for Northern Europe.

Sweden has a long tradition of providing sanctuary to persons in need of international protection and is a key partner to UNHCR. The country has received considerable praise for how well it managed the significant challenges in receiving the large number of asylum seekers and refugees in 2015. This was only possible through the dedicated joint efforts of the authorities, civil society and private individuals.

The Temporary Law in 2016 introduced a number of restrictions and changes in the Swedish asylum policies, including a shift to issuance of temporary residence permits. The Temporary Law – as the name indicates – was only intended as a short-term measure to align Swedish asylum legislation with minimum EU standards and deal with an exceptionally high number of arrivals. However, over the past three years, the number of applicants has dropped by more than 85% and last year the number of asylum applications in Sweden was the lowest in 13 years. UNHCR therefore regrets Sweden’s decision to extend the Temporary Law.

In their report, “Humanitarian Consequences of the Temporary Swedish Aliens Act”, the Swedish Red Cross has documented the negative impact that the temporary permits have on integration and the psychological well-being of refugees, and how it is often very difficult for refugees to fulfill some of the strict requirements in order to be reunited with their families. Another limitation that the Temporary Law has brought about is the difficulty for LGBTI refugees to reunite with their partners, as it is often impossible for members of this group to formalize their relationship already in their country of origin.

UNHCR will engage actively and constructively with Sweden in its continued efforts to strengthen refugee protection, and looks forward to contributing to the work of the parliamentary committee dedicated to developing proposals for Sweden’s future migration policies.