Cities welcome refugees: Unaccompanied minors in Malmo


EUROCITIES member Malmo received nearly 15,000 unaccompanied refugee minors in 2015 – how has the city coped with this challenge?

The city of Malmo in Sweden has been managing a huge increase in numbers of unaccompanied refugee minors since last autumn. Malmo began 2015 by receiving around 40 unaccompanied minors each week. By the autumn, this figure had risen to 300 each day. The number has dropped since the reinstatement of border controls at the Swedish/Danish border, but nevertheless Sweden has received the most unaccompanied minors of all the EU member states so far – 35,000 for a population of 10 million. Compare this with Germany, which received the second highest number at 14,000 for a population of 80 million.

So what does this mean for Malmo? At its most, the city had around 2,300 places of transit available for unaccompanied minors in the city. Nearly 15,000 unaccompanied minors arrived in the city in 2015, compared to just 1,567 the previous year. Unlike families or adults, which come under the remit of the national government, it is up to the city authorities to take care of unaccompanied minors on their territories. The city had to hire more than 2,000 people over the course of several months to staff the homes for unaccompanied minors. The national government provided €1 billion in financial compensation to Swedish local authorities to deal with the scale of new arrivals, of which Malmo received €38 million.

Like many European cities, Malmo sees education as an important route to integration. With its rapidly growing population, which includes the large-scale arrival of families and unaccompanied minors, the city is planning to build around 20 new schools over the next ten years, at a cost of over €4bn.

Providing affordable housing for refugees in general has been another major challenge for the city, which like many other cities is already struggling with housing shortages. Many of those already living in precarious housing situations are finding themselves even more vulnerable, making housing one of the city’s most urgent priorities.

To complicate matters further, there is a Swedish law (EBO) which states that anyone granted permanent residency may move from a refugee centre to live with a relative or friend. However, should this arrangement fall through, it is up to the local government to take over the responsibility of securing new accommodation for that person. Malmo maintains that the national government should retain the financial responsibility for that individual should their housing choice fall through. The other consequence of this arrangement is that it means refugees are often moving in with friends or relatives living in already crowded homes in marginalised neighbourhoods, leading to further segregation and preventing them from fully integrating in society.

Malmo shares many of the challenges other European cities cite in our new report on ‘Refugee reception and integration in cities’. The city recognises the importance of communicating transparently with citizens, and the need to strike the right balance between showing citizens that they are coping while asking the government for funding to manage the situation. The impact on the city budget and staff resources has been considerable, but Malmo was fortunate that the Swedish government provided some financial compensation to cover the immediate costs.

Malmo shares the view that the response at local level has in general been faster than at national level. EUROCITIES has been calling for direct access to EU funding for cities to allow them to continue reacting quickly and effectively to this rapidly evolving challenge. Malmo echoes the sentiment of many of our members in calling for funding for integration to reach the local level without filters or barriers. The city also supports our call for greater focus on integration in the European Agenda for Migration.

In terms of enabling people to be integrated in Swedish society more quickly, Malmo identifies a number of proposals, such as: better cooperation between agencies, organisations and businesses; building more affordable housing; making it easier to recognise refugees’ academic and professional credentials; and exploring new and innovative ways to integrate newcomers in society.

Malmo remains proud of its status as an open and welcoming city, and is confident that Sweden can cope with the situation it finds itself in. Despite pockets of hostility towards refugees in Sweden, in general the city has seen great solidarity from its residents in this challenging time. Malmo would like to see EU member states take greater responsibility and alleviate some of the burden from cities.

To find out more about how European cities like Malmo are coping with refugee reception and integration, see our new report, launched in Brussels on 4 April.