(Dec. 31, 2019) On November 27, 2019, the Swedish Parliament voted to approve a government proposal (Prop. 2019/2020:10) to limit the right of asylum seekers to find nongovernment housing. The law, commonly known as the EBO Law, took effect on January 1, 2020. (Socialförsäkringsutskottetsbetänkande2019/20:SfU11: Ett socialt hållbart eget boende för asylsökande.) The law passed with great support, with only the Left Party and one unaffiliated member of Parliament voting against it.
Under current rules, asylum seekers have a right to find nongovernment housing in Sweden and be compensated for its cost by the Migration Agency (Migrationsverket) in the form of extra housing benefits (bostaadsersättning) while their asylum application is pending. (3a and 16 §§ Lag (1994:137) om mottagande av asylsökande m.fl. [Act on Receiving Asylum Seekers].)
Under the new rules, asylum seekers may still seek housing on their own, but if they choose to move into and remain in a segregated area—a part of a municipality that the government has deemed to have “socioeconomic challenges”—the government may withhold special housing benefits typically awarded to persons who arrange their own housing, as well as the “daily allowance” (dagersättning) given to all asylum seekers. (10 a §.)
According to the government bill, the purpose of the law is to improve the overall conditions for receiving asylum seekers, such as housing them and integrating them into society, as well as to help municipalities struggling to improve socioeconomically vulnerable areas. The law will not apply to persons already living in these areas, and persons who move into such areas may receive withheld daily allowance benefits retroactively if the status of the area improves. (Lagrådet: Ett socialt hållbart eget boende för asylsökande at 2.)
History of the EBO Law
When the EBO Law was originally passed in 1994, the legislators estimated that approximately 10% of asylum seekers would elect to find their own housing. Today, however, approximately 56% of all asylum seekers live in housing they have found themselves. (Prop. 2019-2020:10 at 6.) Although intended as a positive measure to make asylum seekers more responsible and in charge of their own situations, and to provide an opportunity to live closer to friends and family, the law has proved problematic for the state and municipalities because certain areas have received a per capita greater number of asylum seekers, creating highly concentrated, segregated areas of asylum seekers (Prop. 2019/202:10 at 6–7) known as “vulnerable areas” (särskilt utsatta områden), or more controversially as “no-go zones.”
Applying the New Law
On December 18, 2019, the Migration Agency announced that it would begin applying the new rules on July 1, 2020. According to the Migration Agency, the purpose of the new rules is to encourage “a greater number of asylum seekers to choose to live in areas where there are conditions to promote a societally sustainable [welcoming of asylum seekers].” Currently more than half (57%) of all registered asylum seekers live in housing that they themselves have arranged (22,500 compared to the 17,000 that live in Migration Agency housing).
How the designation of vulnerable areas will be made in practice is still unclear. The Swedish Union of Tenants (Hyresgästföreningen) in their member newspaper (Hem & Hyra) has claimed that the statistics needed to evaluate which areas are socioeconomically vulnerable are currently not available and that it might take longer than anticipated to produce the local statistics on the conditions that create vulnerable areas—for example, the educational level of the residents, percentage of unemployed, and language skills of a subset of the municipality residents. In a June 2019 report the Swedish police defined 22 areas in Sweden as “particularly vulnerable,” with 60 areas qualifying as “vulnerable”, “[high] risk”, or “particularly vulnerable.”