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Wimelius, Eriksson, Isaksson & Ghazinour, 2017 🔗

Swedish Reception of Unaccompanied Refugee Children – Promoting Integration?

Year: 2017

Type of text: Academic article

Published by:  International Migration & Integration

Language: English

Author: Malin E. Wimelius, Malin Eriksson, Joakim Isaksson & Mehdi Ghazinour

Pages: 15

Available at:

Short description of text 

An analysis of the Swedish reception of unaccompanied refugee children, and efforts to “integrate” them into the Swedish society, using a municipality in northern Sweden as a case study. The different actors involved in this are being identified and their efforts investigated. Based on data collected prior to 2015.

Most important results

– ‘There was—overall—a strong call for the development of more tangible municipal goals for reception and integration. We encountered a multitude of strong opinions on how reception was politically steered in the municipality. The system of reception was commonly referred to as incoherent and in need of more developed political guidelines … In the municipality, there was no written policy or programme to complement the political goals for reception presented earlier. Neither was there any political decisions made nor strategies developed as to how those goals should be reached. Such policies, programmes and strategies could have helped to further guide reception, something that was much sought after by the actors working with the children’ (p. 154).

– ‘A number of actors were involved in the reception of unaccompanied children and the promotion of their integration into Swedish society. Overall, we met with professionals who were deeply engaged in the well-being of the children and worked hard and with good intentions to support the creation of their new lives in Sweden. However, we conclude that seen through the lens of social-ecological systems theory, the local system of reception was fraught with challenges 
 The most obvious and critical challenge facing our local system of reception therefore concerned the interactions between the various microsystems. Actors were largely unaware of what went on outside their own microsystem, describing themselves as isolated islands rather than interrelated ones. Although there were connections and links, these were sometimes too weak or too frequently interrupted to be able to contribute to increased cohesiveness’ (p. 155). ‘Another telling example in this respect concerns the school in which peers can help immigrant children to form a frame of reference about the new society. Although there were integration efforts made at the upper secondary school, these stood in stark contrast to everyday life in school as unaccompanied children were placed in a separate building with classes scheduled in a way that made spontaneous interaction with other children difficult’ (p. 155). 

– ‘The five formal collaboration groups were supposed to increase the sense of shared responsibility but worked on vaguely defined mandates and tended to address similar issues albeit in different constellations. Taken together, this contributed to increasing rather than decreasing clarity as to who did what and why in local reception’ (p. 155). 

– ‘Another challenge was the lack of an explicit political conceptualisation of integration and, as a result, the lack of reception and integration goals that went beyond what is legally required in Sweden. Although there was an outspoken support for diversity in the municipality, interviews and focus group discussions showed that this support was insufficient in terms of steering and guiding reception and integration. Those working with reception and integration were therefore very much left to their own devices. It was not that they did not know how to approach and work with unaccompanied children; it was rather that they wanted an articulated political vision of what it was they were supposed to achieve in the long run’ (p. 155-156).

– ‘A final challenge concerned the absence of systematic evaluations and long-term follow-ups’. 

Theoretical perspective/framework

Social ecological systems theory (Bronfenbrenner)


‘The study focused on children aged 16 or older with permanent residence permits and efforts made for this particular group. Data collection was conducted over a period of 1 year and included interviews, focus group discussions (FGDs) and reviews of relevant policy documents directing reception’ (p. 148). ‘In total, 29 interviews were conducted with social workers (n = 4), custodians (n = 5), heads and coordinators for the HCH and supported housings (n= 4) and various staff at an upper secondary school (n= 16)’ (p. 149).

Suggestions for further research

‘Studies that include the voices of the children (and young adults) themselves. Such studies—which are part of our future research agenda—would, amongst other things, enable exploration of transnational networking and online parenthood (cf. Brunnberg et al. 2012) and would also shed additional light on whether or not Swedish reception is promoting integration.

Summarised by: Alva Nissen