Nordic School of Public Health NHV

Realities of asylum-seeking children’s lives discussed during European Refugee Fund conference

Pressmeddelande   •   Dec 18, 2009 15:37 CET

Asylum-seeking children in Sweden may end up waiting for a decision under such meagre conditions that not even owning proper rain clothes can be taken for granted. An interdisciplinary research project on the health and well-being of children in the asylum-seeking process was presented at a conference with 120 participants at the Nordic School of Public Health.  

The aim of the European Refugee Fund’s project GRACE focuses on how to improve the reception of asylum-seekers and the asylum-seeking process for children and parents in Sweden. The conference constituted the last phase of the project, and was aimed toward professionals working with the asylum-seeking process. It was jointly organized by CERGU at the University of Gothenburg, Södertörn University College and the Nordic School of Public Health.
– The conference was very valuable and provided us with new perspectives to be included in the final report which will be published in March, says Henry Ascher, paediatrician and Associate professor in Paediatrics at the Nordic School of Public Health. 
The studies included in the project depict the children’s health situation from different perspectives including media, policy strategies and children’s case officers. Through a study presented by PhD student Malin Svensson of the Nordic School of Public Health, the children’s own voices are also heard, describing how they in spite of their difficult situation are capable of managing their everyday lives. 

Asylum-seekers’ economic constraints
Government benefits to asylum-seekers fell below the subsistence level long ago.
– In practice, reception is very restrictive. It signals “do not come here” to potential asylum seekers, says Marita Eastmond, Professor and social anthropologist at the Nordic School of Public Health and the University of Gothenburg.
An international forerunner on the subject, Charles Watters, discussed how asylum-seekers on the one hand are portrayed as taking advantage of society and on the other hand as people in great need. The academic discourse which describes the push/pull model; factors that push people from one country and pull them towards another, is based on neglect of human ambitions.
 – However, if one looks at migration movements historically, human ambitions become very clear, said Watters.

Historic lessons to be learned
Ketil Eide, PhD in Political History, studies groups of children who have arrived to Norway since the 1950s. Unaccompanied refugee children were traditionally the consequence of the political situation in their home countries, but are since the 1990s part of a modern refugee- and migration stream.
Political interests working against what is best for the children however remains a common feature.
– History repeats itself when it comes to unaccompanied children; this has been a fact since the time of Moses but the question is what we can learn from this, Eide pointed out.

A bridge between policy and practice
PhD student Lisa Ottosson, Nordic School of Public Health, has researched how nine children’s case officers at the Swedish Board of Migration view the concepts  ”the best interests of the child” and ”child perspective”. Her research of the lack of time, resources, proper guidelines and knowledge, as well as a restrictive culture at the Board together uncover a bridge between policy and practice.
The Board’s efforts aiming to reduce waiting times for asylum-seekers were discussed, along with the organizational changes that are being planned in order to reach this goal and what consequences they may have on the children.                                                                                                                                                 
A more effective re-establishment process
Claudio McConnell, who works with the re-establishment process at the Swedish Board of Migration, sent ripples through the audience as he spoke about the Board’s new work model, the LEAN model.
– It has its origin in the automobile and works according to the principles of the conveyor belt. The idea is to standardize the re-establishment process throughout the country, which enables us to measure how effectively we work and to constantly improve our efforts.
According to McConnell, the idea of putting the asylum-seeker at the centre is no longer relevant.
Sociologist Pilar Rodriguez expressed criticism regarding the model, and stated that we have now passed 1984.
– This is something we see more and more in the Western world, that institutions servicing humans increasingly express demands on efficiency similar to that of industry, says Rodriguez.
A condition for a well-functioning reception of refugees is an asylum-seeking process which can be comprehended, where participation and meaningful waiting are key concepts:
– Otherwise there is a risk of good parenting being hollowed out, stated Marita Eastmond.  

By Monica Bengtson, PR Officer, Nordic School of Public Health

The publication ”Asylsökande barns hälsa och välbefinnande” [Asylum-seeking children’s welfare, health and well-being] will be published in March 2010 and can then be ordered via: www.cergu.gu.se