Sweden's immigration authority was facing harsh criticism Thursday after media reported that employees celebrated deportations of asylum-seekers with cakes and champagne. The scandal triggered calls for the head of the Migration Board to step down and raised concerns about how asylum-seekers are treated in the Scandinavian country, which prides itself on being a safe haven for refugees.
A manager of a regional office in southern Sweden was suspended as the Migration Board investigated reports that she invited staff for cake last year to celebrate the deportation of a family that was not granted asylum in Sweden, board spokeswoman Berit Olsson said. The agency was also investigating a similar incident in Solna, a suburb of Stockholm, where employees reportedly celebrated with champagne after a Russian family was sent home.
The reports were published in newspaper Dagens Nyheter and were based on e-mails circulating among Migration Board employees. In a separate report, public broadcaster SVT aired an audio recording, allegedly of an immigration official yelling at a blind asylum-seeker from Iraq to "look at me when I talk to you."
That immigration official has also been suspended, pending an internal investigation, Migration Board officials said. "It is completely clear that it is not in line with the Board's values to act in this manner," said Janna Valik, who heads the state agency. Some media pundits and the left-wing Green Party called on Valik to resign over the scandal.
"I think this is completely abominable," Green Party lawmaker Yvonne Ruwaida told Swedish Radio. "It is a disrespectful treatment which has no place in any state agency in Sweden." Valik told a news conference later Thursday she had no plans to step down, but announced a six-point program for more ethical treatment of asylum-seekers.
The nation of 9 million people grants asylum to people classified as refugees according to U.N. standards. It also accepts non-refugees in need of protection from persecution, war or natural disasters, or people suffering from life-threatening diseases. In 2004, the biggest groups of asylum-seekers in Sweden came from Serbia-Montenegro, Iraq and Russia, according to Migration Board statistics, reports the AP. N.U.