Sweden has become the first European Union country to announce it will give asylum to all Syrian refugees who apply.
“All Syrian asylum seekers who apply for asylum in Sweden will get it,” Annie Hoernblad, the spokeswoman for Sweden’s migration agency, told AFP.
“The agency made this decision now because it believes the violence in Syria will not end in the near future.”
The decision, which will give refugees permanent resident status, is valid until further notice, added Hoernblad.
Until now, Sweden could only house refugees temporarily for three years, after each individual case was evaluated by the state.
The agency expects that the “vast majority of Syrian nationals who today have provisional status will apply for permanent status,” said Hoernblad.
Those granted permanent status will also be allowed to bring their families to Sweden.
The move came as the United Nations said the number of refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria had passed two million, which the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, called “the great tragedy of this century”.
Since 2012, Sweden has taken in some 14,700 asylum seekers from Syria.
Swedish Migration Minister Tobias Billstroem called on other countries to recognise their duty to help the Syrian people.
Q and A: Blanket asylum policies
Dr Jonathan Bogais, The University of Sydney
How common are offers of blanket asylum?
Offers of blanket asylum are very uncommon. There is a global trend against supporting asylum seekers, mostly because of the processing factors attached. Most countries prefer opening their doors to refugees, which for national political reasons is easier.
Sweden has set a precedent in the European Union, do you think other countries in the EU will follow suit during the Syria crisis?
The number of asylum seekers from Syria into the EU has increased from 7860 in 2011 to 24,110 in 2012 and the number is growing rapidly due to the intensification of the conflict.
Germany, which has the highest intake of refugees in the EU, is into election mode and asylum seekers are an issue most politicians prefer to avoid. Therefore it is unlikely that similar offers will be made.
France is experiencing growing nationalism and xenophobia enflamed by ultra-right movements such as the Front National. The French government is only too aware of the sensitivity around issues of bringing more refugees, let alone asylum seekers.
Sweden, however, has set a precedent. Its impact could be significant among many Europeans and a prelude for change, and I believe many people will see it that way.
Swedish Migration Minister Tobias Billstroem has called on other countries to recognise their duty to help the Syrian people. Does such a duty exist?
No it doesn’t. International law clearly does not provide for a duty to grant asylum. Article 14 of The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides that “everyone has the right to seek and enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution”. However, this right to seek asylum has not been included in any legally binding instrument. Most notably, there is no mention of this right in the 1951 Refugee Convention.
Since 2012, Sweden has taken in more than 14,000 asylum seekers from Syria, how many more would you estimate to seek asylum in Sweden following this announcement?
We are likely to witness a rush. How many is hard to estimate. Eventually, there will be a point where the number will be unsustainable. Also, how much will the Swedish people be prepared to accept? This is an unprecedented situation that will no doubt have deep social and economic consequences for Sweden.
How likely is it that Australia would extend a similar blanket offer of asylum to any group under either a Rudd or Abbott government?
Most unlikely. Only days ago, Mr. Abbott also said it was unlikely Australia would take in Syrian asylum seekers. According to Mr Abbott, people fleeing the Syrian conflict could go to Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey or Iraq first. In any case, according to Mr Abbott, “Any person fleeing Syria and landing up in Australia would be in much the same position as the Hazaras and others who are coming by boat.” The Coalition’s policy is that asylum seekers arriving by boat will be processed offshore – and so is ALP’s policy.
Would a shift in Australian policy be more likely if a neighboring country faced a similar conflict to Syria?
I doubt very much that this could happen. Given priorities on increasing border protections expressed by both sides of politics, we could instead see a tightening of Australia’s borders to prevent a flow of asylum-seekers entering Australia.
Dr Jonathan Bogais is an Adjunct Associate Professor at The University of Sydney’s School of Social and Political Sciences.