Identification

Sweden

Country Report: Identification Last updated: 30/11/20

Author

Swedish Refugee Law Center Visit Website

The legal framework with regard to the needs of vulnerable asylum seekers is part of the 1994 Law on the Reception of Asylum Seekers (LMA). The LMA provides the legal framework and briefly mentions the provision for the needs of vulnerable groups. These are not defined but the Migration Agency has set out standards for the reception of vulnerable asylum seekers, mainly including children, women, disabled persons, elderly, persons with mental disorders or serious illnesses, and persons vulnerable to harassment or exploitation due to sexual orientation or gender identity.

When commenting on the legislative proposal on the recast Asylum Procedures and Reception Conditions Directives, the Migration Agency, as well as a number of civil society organisations, suggested the lawmaker to specify how identification of vulnerable groups should be carried out, but the government did not believe it to be necessary (see Special Procedural Guarantees). It can be argued that the process of making sure the Directives are followed have been delayed, and that different authorities have taken different approaches. A special working group at the Migration Agency has looked at vulnerable groups from all aspects, as part of the transposition of the recast Asylum Procedures Directive into Swedish law.[1] They have issued a standard through the Quality Assurance Unit of the Migration Agency which was updated on 25 September 2017.[2] The Migration Agency has also opened three sheltered homes for up to 45 vulnerable asylum seekers in different parts of the country. The new accommodation is intended for people with individual and specific needs that are not being met with in the Migration Agency’s regular operations, support and housing that are already in existence. This may involve, for example asylum seekers from ethnic minorities, victims of torture or LGBTQI people with special needs of networking and social context.

When there are no places available at sheltered housing, LGBTQI persons have been able to share smaller apartments that are generally located in or near medium-sized cities with proximity to target groups and where health care and activities of civil society are designed for LGBTQI people.

 

Screening of vulnerability

 

All asylum seekers are offered health screening and at least 50% take advantage of this. This is particularly important in relation to survivors of torture and traumatised persons. However, because of confidentiality rules, this information is not automatically available to caseworkers. The legal counsel can however request access to this information with the permission of the applicant.

The Migration Agency does not yet collect disaggregated statistics on the number of asylum seekers identified as vulnerable.[3] However, the standard published on 25 September 2017 makes this possible, although this has not been implemented systematically so no statistics are publicly available. Under the standard, all Migration Agency staff are required to report vulnerabilities in an official note that is fed into a common database, mentioning at which stage in the procedure vulnerability is observed and what measures this has led to. It is stressed that a vulnerability assessment must always be made in the initial process.

This standard is monitored by the Migration Agency to evaluate whether assessments of special needs have been made in all cases, how the documentation of these needs has been recorded and what measures have ensured from the assessment. It is noted in the standard that the list of vulnerabilities in the EU Directives is not exhaustive. Some special needs need not be registered in an official note. Examples of these are when the Migration Agency notifies the need for a guardian or informs a municipality that an unaccompanied child needs protection there or the response of an applicant who has requested a case officer, interpreter or public counsel of a specific gender.

During 2019, 481 cases of suspected human trafficking were identified at the Migration Agency concerning; 266 concerning women and 123 concerning men. 92 of these were under 18, 18 girls and 74 boys. The most common nationalities were Nigeria, Thailand, Morocco, Uzbekistan and Vietnam. The Migration Agency filed reports or provided information to the police in 372 cases.[4]

 

Age assessment of unaccompanied children

 

The Migration Court of Appeal has made it clear in a precedent-setting ruling that the burden of proof lies with the applicant to establish his or her stated age as probable, with the aid of supporting documents, where available.[5]

Age assessment is also important if it is uncertain whether the applicant is older than 14 years of age. This has consequences regarding the possibility of taking and checking fingerprints in Eurodac and hence of finding another Member State who might be responsible for examining the asylum request.

Where documents or other evidence proving the applicant’s age as probable are not available, the age stated at the time of lodging of the application is noted down. If doubts arise regarding the applicant’s real age based on observation of their behaviour, then the claimed age can be altered in the records and the person is transferred to the procedure for adults. In other cases, the statements of the individual are examined and questions can be asked in order to try to determine the person’s real age. However, more weight is given to medical assessments than to other sources of information, a fact criticised by the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights following a visit to Sweden.[6]

Medical methods used

When almost 35,000 unaccompanied minors sought asylum in Sweden in 2015, critical voices were raised regarding the need to develop more reliable methods to establish whether an applicant was a child or not. The government gave instructions to the National Board of Forensic Medicine (Rättsmedicinalverket, RMV) to investigate more reliable methods, while at the same time recognising that absolute accuracy was not achievable. This authority has now chosen two methods to assess age and has introduced a new system in March 2017 whereby such age assessment tests can be carried out rapidly throughout the country.

The Migration Agency has the right to request a medical age assessment subject to the consent of the person and his or her guardian. The cost of such an examination is borne by the Migration Agency. Previously, the Migration Agency staff could carry out subjective age assessments that could not be appealed. In the second half of 2016 and in early 2017, many unaccompanied children had their age adjusted to 18 summarily by the Migration Agency because they had not been able to provide acceptable proof of their stated age. The Swedish Bar Association then recommended their members not to request an age assessment examination as the methods then used provided results that were indecisive and could be to the detriment of their clients.

The Agency does not need to have probative evidence for claiming the child is 18. The change in age can only be established when a decision is taken in the asylum case. This means that the unaccompanied child will be told on the same day as the decision is conveyed that he or she is 18 years old and given an arbitrary date of birth which is frequently the date of the decision or close to it. Furthermore, he or she is told to leave the home for unaccompanied children immediately and risk being transferred to another part of Sweden without having the right to continue his or her education. Therefore, many try to arrange accommodation where they are currently living to be able to continue at school. They also no longer have the support of the guardian.

In the new framework for age assessments, the first instance decision is subject to appeal and the claim that the applicant is over 18 does not formally have legal force until the appeal decision has been taken. However, in practice other authorities accept the age assessment of the Migration Agency and act accordingly.

Assessments are conducted based on medical examination of wisdom teeth and knee joints. The RMV explains that:Formulärets överkant

“There is no method for medical age assessment that can determine a person's exact age. RMV’s core task is to deliver reports in the form of analyses and expert opinions in areas such as forensic matters and there is a great deal of experience within the authority of dealing with different degrees of uncertainty in the estimates. RMV’s analyses and judgments are based on evidence or proven experience, which also applies to the work of medical age assessments. RMV in their forensic reports about age never speak with greater certainty than the scientific methods allow.

RMV’s medical age assessments to determine whether a person is under or over 18 years are based on an overall assessment of two studies: X-ray irradiation of wisdom teeth (panoramic image), and an MRI of the lower part of the femur. Scanning and two independent analyses of the respective images will be made by external clinics. Based on the results of these studies, RMV makes a medical age assessment using a standardised matrix. A coroner in the RMV will then issue a forensic opinion on the age in the form of a probability assessment in text form.”

The age assessment can yield the following outcomes:

  • The result “says that the person is 18 or older”
  • The result “possibly speaks for the person being 18 or older”
  • The result “possibly speaks for the person being under 18”
  • The person is under 18

For the wisdom tooth and growth of the knee to be considered as having reached the final stage, both dentists and radiologists must reach the same conclusion. However, full maturity of just one of these – either tooth or knee – is required for the statement that the result “possibly speaks for the person being 18 or older”.

The statement will then become part of the supporting evidence that the Migration Agency uses to issue a decision on the application.

Figures on the year 2019 were not available at the time of writing (March 2020). However, the number of age assessment requests and outcomes in 2018 were as follows:

Age assessment requests and outcomes: 2018

Request / Outcome

Male

Female

Total

Requests for medical age assessment

:

:

574

Forensic opinions on age by the National Medical Service Agency

1,086

166

1,252

Person is 18 or over

0

14

896

Person is possibly 18 or over

807

89

896

Person is possibly under 18

270

1

271

Not possible to conduct survey of wisdom teeth / of knee joint

9

62

1,252

Source: Migration Agency.

 

There are cases of 15-year olds who have been told that now they are considered over 18 and therefore must move to accommodation for adults and leave their social network in the community they have been in for a year or more. This occurs despite certificates from teachers, social workers and psychologists, stating that they are underage. There have been a few incidents of suicide attempts by the unaccompanied minor when this takes place. 1,801 Afghan unaccompanied minors had their ages raised to 18 during 2016 and their cases rejected at first instance. The Migration Agency paid no heed to the recommended EU principle that if doubts persist about an applicant’s age then the stated age by the child is to be respected.

The Legal Unit of the Migration Agency carried out a review of cases involving age assessment in November 2016 i.e. before the new system was launched. It noted in its report that the following areas for improvement had been identified:[7]

  • Evidence of age assessment is not always correctly analysed;
  • There are deficiencies in the oral inquiry regarding age;
  • The applicant is not always given an opportunity to meet the burden of proof and addressing shortcomings in the statement when the age is not deemed probable;
  • An incorrect standard of proof is applied.

According to the government’s request to the RMV at the time of the inception of the new system, if the proposed new tests do not give a clear indication of whether the person is under or over 18, the principle of the benefit of the doubt as per Article 25(5) of the recast Asylum Procedures Directive is to be respected.[8]

Critique on reliability and accuracy

The methods of age assessment have been heavily criticised by the medical community and even by those obliged to carry out the tests. Some experts have resigned in protest at the unproven methods and the fact that it is not the dentists or the X-ray specialists who sign the official report but rather persons employed by the RMV.[9] The media has also put forward criticism of the reliability of the methods used and the weight the assessment carries in the decision of the Migration Agency. The national network of professionals coming into contact with unaccompanied children, “We can’t stand it anymore” (Vi star inte ut), published a critical report in the autumn of 2017, referring to many examples of deficiencies regarding interpreters, administrators, decision makers, agents and guardians.[10]

Both the Pediatric Medical Association and several of the RMV doctors, as well as international experts on age assessment, have distanced themselves from the method of measuring the knee joint. However, the RMV claims that the margin of error is small and Elias Palm, its Head of Department, has previously defended the magnetic camera survey of the knee joint.

In certain cases, second opinions have been sought abroad based on the same scientific material, which have drawn the opposite conclusion. A Swedish journalist has reported in a series of critical articles, among other things, that two of the German researchers who have contributed and developed the method used by RMV make a completely different assessment of almost half of the 80 cases in so-called second opinions. Where RMV meant that the person was over 18 years old, the German experts said that it is not possible to determine that based on the evidence.[11]

Responding to the criticisms, Monica Rodrigo, the RMV Director-General, stated:

“The criticisms that have emerged are primarily based on secondary data, and are other than non-scientific data. They are derived from two German researchers, which should be noted. We have tried to contact them. We want the background information they have not published and we have not been able to obtain it so I think it's really unscrupulous of them.”[12]

However, the criticism of the reliability of the methods vis-à-vis female asylum seekers has led to a suspension of age assessments in November 2017 pending the outcome of a more in-depth investigation by the RMV. The investigation has resulted in new guidelines for testing female asylum seekers and the tests have now been resumed.[13] In cases where the teeth indicate maturity and the knee does not, the following statement will be made: “The result does not allow an assessment of the age of the examined persons relative to the 18-year limit.” In the case where both knee and teeth examinations show no indication of full maturity the statement will read: “Indicates that the examined person is under 18”.

In response to the public and professional criticism, RMV published a statement on 18 January 2018 explaining its methods and the political and legal context in which its task has been formulated.[14]

After criticism on the methods used for age assessments, the National Board of Health and Welfare was commissioned to study whether the method with magnetic camera to determine age is reliable or not. The study included 938 healthy young people aged 14-21.5 years, all born in Sweden and registered in Stockholm and Blekinge. The study began in September 2017 and ended on 10 April 2018. The Karolinska Institute and Blekinge University of Technology have tested some of the Swedish Forensic Medicine's methods, in this case, five different growth zones were examined with magnetic X-ray to assess the maturity of the legs. 

The results of the studies show that the magnetic camera examination can be part of an age assessment, with very great certainty if a girl is over 14 and a boy is over 15, as well as during 18 and 19 years, respectively. The closer one gets to the age of 18, however, it will be more difficult to judge age, i.e. whether someone is a child or adult, and especially girls are difficult to judge because they mature earlier.[15]

In August 2018, the Swedish Council on Medical Ethics sent a letter to the Department of Justice concerning medical age assessment in the asylum process, recommending the Government to objectively examine the process of medical age assessments. The aim is to ensure unaccompanied refugee children’s rights.

The Council considers that there are several uncertainties regarding medical age assessments in the asylum process. Primarily, the question is whether the National Board of Forensic Medicine (RMV) declares the risk of misjudging a child in an accurate way in the forensic statement. The Council referred also to its publication on the issue from 2016.[16] The Council considers, inter alia, that:

  • it must be examined whether the MR-knee method and the assessment model used in Sweden are sufficiently scientifically substantiated to allow a well-founded estimation of uncertainties and the risks of error assessment in a medical age assessment.
  • it must be investigated whether the assessment model with regard to boys / men is legally certain in the light of the current state of knowledge.
  • it must be ensured that the forensic statements regarding medical age assessment are based on the current state of knowledge.
  • it must be ensured that the statements regarding medical age assessment are appropriately designed and sufficiently clear (e.g. with regard to uncertainties) in order for the Migration Agency to be able to make a lawful assessment of the asylum seeker's age.

According to the Council more transparency is needed on how the RMV makes its calculations. The authority should give an open account of how it has reached the level of the risks of error assessment in medical age assessment.[17]

A few medico-legal experts at the National Board of Forensic Medicine in Uppsala resigned from their posts in protest at the way age assessments were being carried out.

The RMV continues to carry out age assessments and has responded to the arguments criticising their methods.[18]

In December 2018, the Swedish Medical Ethics Council (Smer) invited the Government to set up an independent review of the age assessments and in April 2019 the Social Democrats and the Green Party decided that a commission of inquiry would be set up.[19] However, by March 2020 they had so far not agreed on the terms of reference for the inquiry.[20]

In May 2019, the Swedish Refugee Law Center and Civil Rights Defenders brought a case on wrongful age assessment of an unaccompanied child before the Chancellor of Justice (Justitiekanslern). The case concerns the violation of the rights of an unaccompanied child who applied for asylum in Sweden in 2015 and was rejected as the result of an age assessment conducted by the National Board of Forensic Medicine (Rättsmedicinalverket, RMV). While RMV medical examination of his wisdom teeth established that he was likely a minor the result of the examination of his knee joints established that he was likely above 18 years old. A second opinion from private medical experts as well as several personal documents supported the boy’s claim of being a minor.[21]



[1] Act (2016:1243) amending the Aliens Act, 16 December 2016, available in Swedish at: http://bit.ly/2kP9vkz.

[2] Migration Agency, Kvalitetschefens instruktion om standard för dokumentation av särskilda behov, I-78/2017, 25 September 2017.

[3] Information provided by the Migration Agency, January 2018.

[4] Migration Agency, Annual Report, 19 February 2020.

[5] Migration Court of Appeal, MIG 2014:1, UM 2437-13, 11 February 2014, available at: http://bit.ly/2jQwVWr.

[6] Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, ‘Sweden should enhance protection of asylum seekers and persons with disabilities’, 16 February 2018, available at: http://bit.ly/2oxGE8z.

[7] Migration Agency, Tematisk kvalitetsuppföljning av åldersbedömning i samband med beslut om uppehållstillstånd, 1.34-2016-178414, 28 November 2016.

[8]  Ministry of Justice, Uppdrag till Rättsmedicinalverket att genomföra medicinska åldersbedömningar, Ju2016/03931/Å, 19 May 2016, available in Swedish at: http://bit.ly/2jyacNV.

[9] Upsala Nya Tidning, ’Hon slutar i protest mot åldersbedömningar’, 1 February 2018, available in Swedish at: http://bit.ly/2C4O4nB.

[10] VSIU, ’Report about Legal Uncertainties in the Asylum Process For Unaccompanied Minors in Sweden’, 26 February 2018, available at: http://bit.ly/2FEuiD2; Rapport om rättsosäkerhet i asylprocessen för ensamkommande barn och unga, September 2017, available in Swedish at: http://bit.ly/2C5QySC.

[11] Expressen, ’"Jag tycker att det är riktigt oseriöst"’, 9 January 2018, available in Swedish at: http://bit.ly/2Eer9fG.

[12] Ibid.

[13] RMV, ‘Medicinsk åldersbedömning: Förändrad bedömning för flickor’, 9 March 2018, available in Swedish at: https://bit.ly/2G983W3.

[14] RMV, ’Förtydligande om medicinska åldersbedömningar’, 12 January 2018, available in Swedish at: http://bit.ly/2BKXEAk.

[15] Aftonbladet, ‘Beskedet: Svårt att avgöra om någon är barn eller vuxen’, 31 May 2018, available in Swedish at: http://bit.ly/2HE98IR.

[16] Smer, ‘Summary of an opinion – Medical age assessments in the asylum process – ethical aspects’, October 2016, available at: http://bit.ly/2WoeXNX.

[17] RMV, “Oklarheter kring medicinska åldersbedömningar i asylprocessen”, available in Swedish at http://bit.ly/2UYLuKo.

[18]Rättsmedicinalverket, “Klargörande om medicinska åldersbedömningar i asylärenden”, 14 December 2018, available in Swedish at http://bit.ly/2Fpv2fl.

[19] Svenska Läkaresällskapet, ‘Regeringen tillsätter en oberoende utredning av medicinska åldersbedömningar’, 2019, available in Swedish at: https://bit.ly/2Gdbdtw.

[20]Sveriges television, “Åldersbedömningar splittrar regeringen – utredning dröjer”, 1 March 2020, available in Swedish at: https://bit.ly/3cFpYma.

[21] ECRE, ‘Sweden: Case against the State on Medical Age Assessment Before Chancellor of Justice’, available at: https://bit.ly/3aJJ7Sx.

 

Table of contents

  • Statistics
  • Overview of the legal framework
  • Overview of the main changes since the previous report update
  • Asylum Procedure
  • Reception Conditions
  • Detention of Asylum Seekers
  • Content of International Protection
  • ANNEX – I Transposition of the CEAS in national legislation