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(Stockholm) – The Swedish Parliament is expected to approve a restrictive new asylum bill on June 21, 2016, that could harm the well-being of migrant children in need of protection and undermine their opportunity to effectively integrate into Swedish society, Human Rights Watch said today. The bill, which will apply to all children and adults who applied for asylum after November 24, 2015, will temporarily roll back some rights currently available under Swedish asylum law.

“Long a leader in promoting the rights of asylum seekers and refugees, Sweden is now joining the race to the bottom,” said Rebecca Riddell, Europe and Central Asia fellow at Human Rights Watch. “Sweden should not sacrifice the well-being of vulnerable children in an effort to make the country less attractive for asylum seekers.”

Nour T., a 16-year-old Syrian girl, at a group home in Gothenburg, Sweden.  © 2016 Lydia Gall/Human Rights Watch

If the bill is approved, children and adults who are not recognized as refugees but are granted subsidiary protection in Sweden will generally no longer have the right to have family members outside Sweden join them, to ensure family reunification. People granted full refugee status will still be able to seek reunification, but the bill reduces the scope of family members who are eligible. By and large, everyone, including children, granted subsidiary protection will face annual examinations of their right to remain in Sweden.

The bill will also eliminate a special protection category that exists only in Swedish law that can be granted in light of “particularly distressing circumstances.”

The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, warned the measures could conflict with the best interests of unaccompanied children in Sweden, noting that separation from their families and extended periods of uncertainty can have a “detrimental effect.”

More than 12,000 children have sought asylum in Sweden since the changes were announced in November. In 2015, two-thirds of the children who received protection in Sweden were granted subsidiary protection or protection in light of “particularly distressing circumstances.”

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