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Sweden’s apathetic refugee children (A) 2013-151.1

6 November 2013



In early 2005, a state of apathy struck some 150 children in Sweden, all from families who had applied for political asylum. They had stopped talking, eating and connecting with the world around them, and several had to be admitted to psychiatric care and tube fed. Their families’ applications for asylum had been rejected, or were likely to be rejected, and they were facing deportation. There was, however, a condition of the UN Child Protection Act that forbid the deportation of children with a serious health condition, and therefore their siblings and parents. At a time when a right-wing populist party seriously threatened the electoral prospects of the incumbent Social Democratic government, the issue was not only baffling, but politically divisive. The first step to handling the strange case was to understand it. Similar cases were hard to find, however, and suggestions to take blood samples from some of the children to test for possible malingering, poisoning, or faking were obstructed on both cultural and ethical grounds.

This is a short two-part case prepared for a course about evidence-based policy; it outlines a situation where policy has to be made at great speed under pressure where available evidence is limited, and contested. Part A gives an overview of the problem, and discusses the first attempts to procure evidence in a case of both national and international significance.

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Authors: Karl Lofgren
Published Date: 6 November 2013
Author Institution: ANZSOG
Content Length: 2
Product Type: Part A, Primary resources, Short story