Sweden shocked by adolescent asylum seekers turning suicidal

More asylum seekers from the “unaccompanied children” age bracket tend to kill themselves while waiting for a residence permit in Sweden. A survey by the Karolinska Institute put suicide as the leading cause of death in this age group, with an incidence ten times higher than that among their Swedish peers.

In 2017 alone, twelve adolescent asylum seekers committed suicide, according to a survey by the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm conducted on behalf of the National Board of Health. By contrast, the figure was below ten in 2016, with no registered suicide cases within the group in 2015, national broadcaster SVT reported.

All the asylum seekers who took their lives in 2017 were boys and men under the age of 21. Almost all of them came from Afghanistan and had applied for a residence permit in 2015.

Most of them were going through the asylum process, with some of them already having been rejected. However, there were also those who had been granted the residence permit.

According to the report, suicide was the leading cause of death among unaccompanied children and adolescents. The incidence of self-harm and suicide attempts were clearly higher among the unaccompanied children compared with their peers who came to Sweden with a guardian.

The suicides rate among “unaccompanied minors” was thus 51.2 cases per 100,000 people in 2017, almost ten time that among their peers residing in Sweden (5.2 cases per 100,000 in 2016).

“These are worrying numbers. Asylum seeking unaccompanied children and adolescents stuck in our system need help and treatment to prevent more suicide cases,” Petra Rinman, the director of the Expertise Center for Unaccompanied Children and Adolescents under the National Board of Health said.

Keeping track of the suicides among asylum seekers, let alone preventing them, is complicated by the fact that they lack Swedish social security numbers. The statistics in the report therefore come from several sources, such as the Migration Board, the National Board of Forensic Medicine, the Health and Social Care Inspectorate and various NGOs.

2017 report by the Children’s Right in Society NGO (BRIS) found a prevalence of mental issues in children and adolescents fleeing to Sweden, which can lead to depression and, at worst, even suicide attempts. Nearly 80 percent of the unaccompanied minors aged between 1 and 18 at the reception center Cosmos in the city of Uppsala tested positively for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). According to BRIS, though, ill mental health was widespread among both unaccompanied children and those who come with family.

In 2015, Sweden took in over 35,000 “unaccompanied children” seeking asylum, followed by 2,200 in 2016 and 1,300 in 2017. Subsequent tests by the National Board of Forensic Medicine revealed, however, that four out of five or 80 percent were in fact adults.


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