meanwhile in Sweden
08.Jun.06 - Between November 15 2005 and march 30 2006 something unique happened in Sweden. Tens of thousands of hidden and waiting refugees could, without fear, go to the Migration Board and hand in their papers for a re-trial due to a new temporary amnesty legislation.
No deportation were being made during this short period of time. The detention centers were empty and the civil servants had nothing to do. This was a short period of "seize fire" in the middle of the invisible war on asylum seekers.
In the year 2005 the number of hidden refugees were between 10 000 and 20 000. This was a result of a very severe refugee politics during a long period of time. Sweden does not tolerate people without papers and they have no rights whatsoever. Organisations of volunteers just could not take care of so many people, not to mention help them with food, a place to stay and medicine.
The humanitarian engagement in refugee lives was transformed to political energy and organised political struggle. Grassroot workers, people from older NGOs, established institutions and political parties gathered around one single demand: Papers for all hidden and waiting refugees.
In January 2005 a campaign network called "Amnesty for refugees 2005" was created. They demand a general amnesty for all asylum seekers in Sweden. People in Sweden started to question the basic values of their society as well as their own picture in it.
The major part of the media helped to spreading the stories that asylum seekers told about their lives. The myth cracked and critical voices raised. Today, there is a more friendly atmosphere towards the refugees in Sweden.
In Sweden, the asylum seeker have the right to choose in which city they want to live. In spite of the fact that they will not recieve any economical contribution for the rent but most of them drop to stay in the refugee camps and choose instead the big cities for living. In this way they are less isolated and have a lot easier to meet and to organize their activities.
By and by the asylum seekers broke their silence and took part in discussions, meetings and other activities. Many people spread leaflets in the streets and the areas they lived. They took part in formulating and writing their own demands as well as they participated in the practical works. Asylum seekers took an active part in the public domain. Cultural workers, musicians and artists helped by telling the asylum seekers' stories and lives in documentaries, songs and films. Many journalists and scientists wanted to meet the hidden refugees face to face. The protest helped to raise sympathy and understanding for the refugees' situation in society.
In September 14 2005, 134 members of the parliament voted for an amnesty, but 172 were against. The against group were exclusively Social Democrats and Moderates (a Right wing party). After the no to amnesty in the Parliament the Social Democrats in the government was forced by their two smaller collaborate parties (Vansterpartiet and Miljopartiet - the Left and the Green Party) to make a temporary law granting residence permits for families with children and the asylum applicants that could not be sent away. According to the Migration Board only around 50% of all the asylum seekers got or will get residence permits.
Today there are lots of refusals and people are starting to hide again. The invisible war is on again. Different groups of asylum seekers who are denied the permission of residence gathers in spontaneous actions or goes on hunger strikes out of pure desperation.
Some of us who are writing this letter are asylum seekers and have worked actively in the campaign. We are expecting decisions from the Migration Board and we don't know how our lives will look like if we forced to hide again. It is very important to tell the asylum seekers that not all campaigns are successful, that we have to be prepared for failures. That just a campain is succesful dose not mean that it will change the asylum policy radically. At its best, it should be seen as a very important but temporary improvement.
When the Swedish parliament voted no to amnesty we had no strategy on how to continue our work. Some local groups had no activities since the decision and some held out untill the end of the campaign, March 31, for as many people as possible could to stay. After the temporary gained legality many asylum seekers have became engaged solely in their own cases.
For us the campaign had one clear goal: To help asylum seekers gain a permit of residency. To reach that goal we had no other choice but to work inside the legal framework. Only the authorities can give such permission in the end and we worked to get as good results as possible that as many people as possible could to live in dignity. The methods we have used was not always the ones we loved the most. We protested and showed our anger upon many issues but we carefully discussed every action for not closing the door on a dialogue with the politicians.
At the same time we who work for concrete results we ought to have a discussion about "Borders", how they affect life even for "legal citizens" and the way we can act in public domain. Borders do not protect us from refugees, but transform our society to a prison.
To succeed in campaigns by making refugees legal we have to mobilise many people with good arguments, creativity and patience.
Today in Sweden some people have begin to organise and to work for obtaining papers for everybody. New networks must be created and they have to collaborate with organisations from other European countries for stoping the EU:s common and hostile refugee conventions and try to replace them with rules based on justice and solidarity.
Some of us pay a high price for their civildisobedience by crossing the borders without permission of states. But we consider our struggle for papper /legal status as a part of a bigger sruggle for justice for everybody.
Flyktingamnesti/No one is illegal