Sweden, Morocco reach deal on minor refugees

Morocco agrees to take back minor refugees not qualified for asylum in Sweden

Photo by: AFP (Archive)
Photo by: AFP (Archive)

Refugees are checked by the police at Hyllie train station in Malmoe, Sweden on November 12, 2015

Sweden said on Tuesday that it reached a deal with Morocco on returning unaccompanied minor refugees who don’t qualify for asylum.

According to Swedish officials there are hundreds of homeless Moroccan boys in Stockholm and other cities who often get mixed up in crime and drugs.

The Swedes have long urged Morocco to take them back. On Tuesday, the government said it reached a deal with the North African country.

The Swedish Justice Ministry said a committee of officials from both countries would be set up to make it easier to identify the boys and send them back.

The announcement comes four days after the Swedish government decided not to recognize a disputed territory in Western Sahara as an independent republic a move that pleased Moroccan officials.

According to UNICEF, approximately 106,000 children applied for asylum in Europe in the first half of 2015, up nearly 74 percent from the same period the previous year. Many of the refugee children made their way to Europe with no relatives or papers.

Sweden, has been the most accommodating country for unaccompanied minors amid the worst refugee crisis the world has seen since World War II, taking in 87 percent of asylum applicants into the country and 29 percent of all unaccompanied minors applying for asylum in the EU.

13-year-old Mahmud Zaara poses for a picture in Eskilstuna, about 110 kilometres west of Stockholm

Over 7,000 unaccompanied minors arrived in Sweden last year according to Migrationsverket statistics. In 2015, this figure continued to rise, with at least 9,000 minors having arrived before August.

A Reuters report published in September 2015 stated that Sweden had spent $1.1 billion on taking care of the minors this year. Once it is determined that an applicant is under the age of 18, the Swedish authorities grants “a stipend of $275 a month, enrolment in Swedish classes, counseling, tutoring, and housing, either via a guardian or in a residential centre,” The Christian Science Monitor stated in a report released in September 2015.

However, the minors who are not taken care of by government officials face great risk including rape, going missing, forced prostitution and drug selling.

In September, The Independent newspaper cited a spokesperson for Save the Children saying “Unaccompanied children are at the greatest risk from people traffickers … Some are being forced into manual labour, domestic work, drug smuggling and prostitution.”

Mehdi Ghazinour, a professor of social work at Sweden’s Umea University, told Al Jazeera even the minors who successfully went through the asylum process experience challenges such as finding work and making friends.

“Swedish institutions are good,” Ghazinour said “but people need to be more welcoming on the social level as well,”

TRTWorld and agencies