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Unaccompanied Minors Seeking Asylum Face Uncertain Future In Sweden

FILE: Refugees float as they hold a tube after a dinghy carrying Syrian and Afghan refugees deflated some 100m away before reaching the Greek Island of Lesbos in September 2015.
FILE: Refugees float as they hold a tube after a dinghy carrying Syrian and Afghan refugees deflated some 100m away before reaching the Greek Island of Lesbos in September 2015.

Zolfiya Akbari’s future hangs in the balance as she awaits her asylum interview in Sweden that will decide whether she can stay or will have to return to Afghanistan.

A 17- year-old Afghan migrant, Akbari arrived in Sweden in 2015 on her own and now lives in the country among hundreds of other unaccompanied minors.

She receives a monthly stipend of about $86 and attends language classes in her adopted homeland.

Back in Afghanistan, her life was shaped by tragedy. Akbari lost her parents along with two brothers in a Taliban offensive in Kunduz in 2015, when the militants controlled the city for a short period.

Soon afterward, her uncle paid several thousand dollars to people smugglers to help her get to Europe.

Speaking to the RFE/RL Gandhara website over the phone from a Swedish migrant camp, Akbari explained the perils of her journey to Europe.

“We went from Nimroz Province to Iran, and then to Turkey and Greece,” she recounted. “There were about 200 of us. The smugglers were very dangerous. Sometimes along the journey they would separate the women from the men. We feared 100 percent to be raped or killed or sold somewhere."

In 2015, the same year Akbari arrived in Sweden, more than 23,000 other unaccompanied children and young adults from Afghanistan applied for asylum in the country.

A year later, according to the Swedish Migration Agency, the number dropped drastically, and more than 2,100 cases were granted protection while over 600 others were rejected.

The group was part of a large wave of refugees and asylum seekers into Europe in recent years fleeing wars and poverty in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. According to the European Commission, 30 percent of asylum applicants across the European Union over the past two years were children. More than 96,000 unaccompanied minors applied for asylum in the EU in 2015 while that figure dropped to just over 56,000 last year.

Morgan Johansson is Sweden’s justice and migration minister. In an interview in May, he told RFE/RL in Brussels that all cases must be treated on an individual basis.

“The way the burden of proof is designed is [that] the person applying for asylum needs to show they have a need of protection,” he said.

Regarding the rights of unaccompanied minors, Johansson said most cases are granted temporary residency followed by a series of assessments to see whether they qualify for “protection” or refugee status -- but that even if they do, it doesn’t necessarily guarantee they can stay indefinitely in Sweden.

If, after three years, he said, it can be demonstrated that “the need for protection remains then it will be prolonged, but if the need of protection doesn’t remain then you have to go back after that period of time.”

Ahmad Zaki Khalil is head of the migration committee at the Afghan Association in Sweden.

He told Gandhara that the most important thing for applicants -- particularly those who are Afghan -- to have is proper identification documents.

“This will give more credibility to every individual migrant for their interviews,” he said. “If they fail to present identity documents, it will lead to routine negative responses.”

Akbari says she has no passport or national identification card.

“I had my Tazkira, or Afghan identification card, but had no passport,” she said. “But along the way to Europe, the smuggler took my bag and threw it in the water. I could either save myself or the bag.”

Now, she is afraid to go back to Afghanistan because she says it is not safe there for an unaccompanied girl.

“I am waiting for my interview. I do not know whether I will receive a positive response or if they will send me back,” she said. “I am afraid of being sent to insecurity, of being raped there. These things scare me a lot.”