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Sweden accepts both quota refugees through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees relocation system and asylum seekers arriving at the border.  In 2015 Sweden received approximately 160,000 applications for asylum, including more than 35,000 from unaccompanied minors.  Prior to November 24, 2015, most asylum seekers were granted permanent residence permits, but after that date, asylum seekers arriving at the border have only been given temporary residence permits.  Asylum seekers are given free housing, health and dental care, and schooling for children ages pre-kindergarten to twenty.  Sweden allows for family reunification but family reunification has become more restrictive as a response to the refugee crisis.  Overall, Sweden has revised its asylum policies considerably following the refugee crisis of 2015.

I.  General Background

Sweden has historically received a large number of asylum seekers, including the largest number per capita among the countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in 2013.[1]  During the Iraq war, Södertälje, a small municipality in Sweden, took more Iraqi refugees than the United Kingdom and the United States combined.[2]  Sweden was also the first country in Europe to grant asylum seekers from Syria permanent residence permits.[3]

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II.  Number of Asylum Seekers

Sweden received 160,000 asylum applications in 2015,[4] a steep increase from 80,000 in 2014.[5]  During 2015 Sweden received the largest number of applicants per capita in the EU (almost 2% of the total population).[6]  The five largest countries of origin among asylum seekers were Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Eritrea, and Somalia.[7]  Of these 160,000 applications, more than 35,000 were from unaccompanied children.[8]  Among the unaccompanied minors 90% were boys between the ages of thirteen to eighteen.[9]  Approximately 66% of all unaccompanied children in 2015 were Afghans.[10]  Although there was an increase from 2014 to 2015 in asylum seekers from all countries, the steepest increase in asylum seekers was among those from Afghanistan, from 3,104 in 2014 to 41,564 in 2015, a 1,298% increase, compared with an increase of 30,583 to 51,338, a 68% increase, in applications from Syrians.[11] 

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III.  Recognition of the Right of Asylum

Sweden’s Aliens Act regulates asylum.[12]  Prior to November 24, 2015, there were three types of asylum statuses in Sweden: refugee, persons deemed in need of subsidiary protection, and persons in need of other protection.[13]  On that date, the Swedish government announced that Sweden would align its asylum policy with that of the rest of the EU by limiting the number of grounds for asylum to include only refugees and persons in need of subsidiary protection, thus eliminating the third status type.[14]

A.  Refugees

Sweden is a signatory to the Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its Protocol.[15]  Refugees are defined in Swedish law as persons who are refugees according to this Protocol,[16] that is, a person who,

owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, sex, sexual orientation or membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.[17]

B.  Persons Deemed in Need of Subsidiary Protection

A persons in need of subsidiary protection is defined as one who is

a foreigner who does not qualify under the Ch. 4 § 1 Aliens Act definition as a refugee, and who is outside of his or her country of citizenship because there is a well-founded reason to believe that the foreigner would be at risk of being punished by death or be subject to corporal punishment, other inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment, or [being] a civilian, be in serious risk of injury due to an armed conflict, and the foreigner cannot, or because of the risk mentioned above, does not want to avail himself to the home country’s protection.[18]

The same test applies to a stateless person who is outside a country where he or she has previously had his or her residence.[19]

C.  Persons in Need of Other Protection

A person in need of other protection is defined as

a foreigner who [is not recognized as a refugee under the definition and] is outside the country where he is a citizen, because he or she is in need of protection due to external or internal military conflict, or because of other tensions in the country, [who] feels a well-founded fear of being subjected to encroachment, or [who] cannot return to his or her homeland because of an environmental disaster.[20]

In addition to these three grounds for asylum, the Swedish Migration Office may, in “exceptionally distressing circumstances, [and] in exceptional cases,” grant residence permits to individuals who otherwise do not qualify as refugees.[21]  This typically applies to cases where there are young children who are ill and cannot receive care in their home countries.

D.  Dublin Regulation

Sweden is a member of the European Union (EU), and therefore adheres to the EU’s Dublin Regulation, which stipulates that refugees within Europe should apply for asylum in the first EU country they reach and that other countries can send asylum seekers back to that country.[22]

E.  Refusal of Asylum

An application for asylum can be dismissed if a person has been deemed a refugee or in need of subsidiary protection in an EU member state or a third country (provided the person will be protected against persecution or has other needed protection there), or if the person can be sent to a country where he or she can apply for asylum and will be safe from persecution, the death penalty, forced labor, torture, or other inhuman or degrading treatment.[23]

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IV.  Application Process

A. Quota Refugees

Sweden receives quota refugees through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) program.[24]  Annually, Sweden accepts approximately 1,900 quota refugees.[25]  The government and the opposition have agreed to gradually increase this number to 5,000.[26]

Quota refugees are screened by the UNHCR and by Migration Authority personnel, either through in-person interviews before the person arrives in Sweden, or by a review of the documents presented to the Migration Authority by the UNHCR.[27]

B.  Refugees Arriving at the Border

A large number of asylum seekers in Sweden seek asylum after arriving in Sweden without a valid visa.[28]  Typically these asylum seekers have travelled through Europe to reach Sweden.  A person arriving in Sweden must apply for asylum immediately upon arrival.[29]  Asylum is sought at the Migration Authority Office Centers (located in the Stockholm area, Malmö, Gothenburg, Norrköping, and Gävle).[30]

C.  Determining “Bona Fide Asylum Seeker” Status

For quota refugees the UNHCR determines whether the person qualifies for refugee status.  For all other asylum seekers government employees at the Migration Authority make this determination.[31]  Persons meeting the requirements for a refugee under the Refugee Convention are given protected status as refugees unless they have committed international crimes or are a danger to Swedish national security.[32]

D.  Residence Permits

From 2012 to December 5, 2015, asylum seekers arriving from Syria were automatically given permanent residence.[33]  On October 22, 2015, the government signed a deal with the opposition that only family members and unaccompanied minors would continue to receive permanent residence permits.[34]  On November 24, 2015, the Swedish government announced that it would only give permanent residence permits to asylum seekers qualifying as quota refugees—i.e., refugees sent by the UNHCR.[35]  Persons having sought asylum prior to the announcement would continue to receive permanent residence permits provided they were part of a family with asylum-seeking children who at the time the application is reviewed and decided (anticipated to be two years)[36] are younger than eighteen.[37]

E.  Responses to Refugee Crisis

1.  Border Controls

The Swedish Government is working to considerably decrease the number of asylum seekers arriving at the Swedish borders.[38]  

On November 12, 2015, Sweden implemented temporary border controls that were expected to continue for at least six months.[39]  Ferries carrying passengers (including asylum seekers) are required to perform identification controls.[40]  As a result, persons without government-issued identification are not allowed on ferries traveling to Sweden.  A similar law requiring train and bus operators to perform identification checks on its passengers took effect on January 4, 2016.[41]

Although the actual meaning of the new law mandating the ID checks has been disputed, it appears the controls are for valid identification only; passengers are not required to present a visa.[42]

2.  Medical Tests to Determine Age

On December 5, 2015, the government announced that unaccompanied minors who seek asylum in Sweden will be required to undergo medical testing unless they can prove their age.[43]

Medical age tests of asylum seekers who claim to be minors have been a controversial issue in Sweden.  In 2012 the National Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen) published a report in which it criticized age determination through medical testing as unreliable.[44]  The Swedish Bar Association has also published ethical guidance stating that licensed attorneys should not participate in medical age determinations of their clients.[45]  In addition, the Swedish Supreme Migration Court (Migrationsöverdomstolen) found in September 2015 that the Migration Authority only needed to inform an asylum seeker of the possibility of undergoing medical age testing and that a decision on the asylum-seeker’s application can be made without medical testing having taken place.  The December 2015 announcement appears to change this policy.

3.  Return of Afghans

Because a large number of asylum seekers are unaccompanied minors arriving from Afghanistan, the Swedish government and Afghanistan are negotiating an agreement for the return of asylum-seeking Afghans to Afghanistan.[46]

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V.  Benefits Provided to Asylum Seekers

A. Monetary Aid

Persons arriving in Sweden as asylum seekers receive free housing and monetary support while their application is pending.[47]  Financial support is made up of a daily sum meant to cover the personal expenses of asylum seekers (such as clothing and telephone costs).[48]  As of September 2015 the daily sum was SEK 24 (about US$2.80) for single adults, or SEK 19 (about US$2.20) for adults who shared a household, and SEK 12 (about US$1.40) for children.[49]  Persons who live in asylum centers where food is not offered free of charge also receive an extra sum to cover food expenses, making the total daily sum SEK 71(about US$8.20) or SEK 61 (about US$7.10) for adults of a two-person or larger adult household.[50]  Money received as financial assistance is not reclaimed if a person’s asylum application is denied.

B. Health and Dental Care

Asylum seekers have the right to health care under the Health Care Act[51] and the Act on Health Care for Asylum Seekers.[52]  This Special Act on Care for Asylum Seekers also regulates dental care.[53]  Minors who are asylum seekers have the same right to health care as Swedish citizen children living in Sweden.[54]

C. Schooling

Asylum seekers have a legal right to attend school (ages pre-kindergarten to completion of high school) while awaiting asylum.[55]

D. Housing

Upon arriving in Sweden asylum seekers are either provided housing or are responsible for finding housing themselves.[56]  Persons who find their own housing must provide the address to the Migration Authority.[57]

E. Passports

There are no travel restrictions that prevent asylum seekers from returning to their home countries.  Asylum seekers without passports receive an “alien’s passport.”[58]  Until 2014 almost all persons who were granted any form of international protection were also provided passports.  Following a policy decision in 2014, only persons who have received asylum because of their relationship with the government of their home countries receive alien’s passports; others are requested to apply for a passport through the embassies of their home countries.[59]

F.  Priority for Asylum Seekers in Schools with a Waiting List

In the fall of 2015 Swedish Minister for Education Gustav Fridolin announced a legislative bill that would require schools with queue systems to receive asylum seekers by prioritizing them over ordinary citizens who were placed in the queue earlier.[60]

G.  Impact of Refugee Crisis on Benefits Provided Asylum Seekers

The refugee crisis has put a strain on Swedish community/societal functions, with the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency reporting in November that there was a risk to the health and life of people in Sweden because health providers, the police, and the like could not keep up.[61]  The Swedish Migration Minister has announced that there is no available housing.[62]  Reportedly, asylum seekers spent nights outside without any shelter in November of 2015.[63]  Temporary tents intended to house asylum seekers have been erected.[64]  Courts have also found that the Migration Agency can require that asylum seekers be given priority in housing queues.[65]  

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VI.  Path to Citizenship

Asylum seekers arriving in Sweden receive either a temporary permit or a permanent residence permit.[66]  Until November 24, 2015, most asylums seekers qualified for permanent residency.[67]  After November 24, 2015, however, only UNHCR quota refugees qualify for permanent residency.[68]

To become a citizen through naturalization a person must have been a permanent resident of Sweden for four years if he or she is a refugee.[69]  There are also special rules for the acquisition of citizenship that apply to young adults.[70]  A young adult (between eighteen and twenty-one years of age) can acquire Swedish citizenship through notification if he or she has a permanent residence permit and has lived in Sweden since the age of thirteen, or fifteen if he or she is stateless.[71]  In addition to being a permanent resident, naturalization also requires that the person seeking citizenship be at least eighteen years old and prove his/her identity.[72] 

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VII.  Monitoring by Security Police

The Security Police is involved in reviewing some applications and advises against the granting of asylum in certain cases.[73]  The purpose is to ensure that persons who are a threat to Sweden are not given permanent residency rights or citizenship.[74]  Only a small portion of all asylum applications are reviewed by the Security Police.[75]  In 2014, only 109 out of 81,301 asylum applications were reviewed by the Security Police.  In twenty-four of these cases the Security Police advised against granting the person asylum.[76]  The Security Police does not consider asylum seekers’ needs for asylum but only looks to the security of Sweden and Swedish interests.[77]  The Security Police also reviews citizenship applications, which it considers “a central part of [its] work.”[78]  In 2014 it reviewed 2,252 out of 36,804 applications for citizenship (158 remitted) and advised against granting of citizenship in thirty-one cases.[79]

In February 2015 a Syrian citizen who had been granted asylum was convicted of having tortured a person in Syria.  The Security Police had determined that it was against Swedish interests that he remain in Sweden, but the court found that he could not be deported because of the current situation in Syria.[80]

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VIII.  Role of Municipalities

A. Historical Right to Refuse Housing of Asylum Seekers

Municipalities have a right to self-governance in the constitution.[81]  Historically, a few regions such as Södertälje have accepted large numbers of asylum seekers while other more affluent municipalities have received smaller numbers.[82]

The Swedish government has proposed that all municipalities should be required to accept asylum seekers and persons who have been granted asylum status in their municipalities as of March 2016.[83]  However, the proposal states that consideration should be given to the socio-economic circumstances (such as unemployment rate) in the municipality.[84]

B. Financial and Social Responsibility to Care for Asylum Seekers

While the state covers the costs (housing, health care, social services, schools) for asylum seekers for the first two years while they are in Sweden, the municipality is thereafter responsible for the asylum seeker.[85]  This includes the county council’s responsibility to provide health care to the asylum seeker.  Also, undocumented immigrants have the right to urgent health care at the cost of the municipality (county council).[86]

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IX.  Managing the Refugee Crisis

In addition to the measures in response to the refugee crisis mentioned elsewhere in this report, Swedish agencies and municipalities are expected take a number of measures to support the volume of asylum seekers now seeking refuge in Sweden.  These include raising municipal taxes,[87] creating low-wage jobs,[88] and building temporary housing.[89]  The Swedish government has also signed an extra budget amendment bill because of the migration crisis.[90]  Sweden moreover has asked the European Commission for relief by reducing its monetary contribution to the EU budget and by relocating asylum seekers from Sweden.[91]  On December 15, 2015, the European Commission announced that Sweden was exempted from its obligations under the relocation scheme.[92]  Sweden’s other requests are still pending.

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Prepared by Elin Hofverberg
Foreign Law Research Consultant
March 2016

[1] Sweden – the OECD’s Highest Per Capita Recipient of Asylum Seekers, The Guardian (Dec. 2, 2014),, archived at

[2] Ivar Ekman, Far from War, A Town with a Well-Used Welcome Mat, The New York Times (June 13, 2007),, archived at

[3] Syrians to Get Permanent Residence in Sweden, Radio Sweden (Sept. 3, 2013), artikel.aspx?programid=2054&artikel=5634497, archived at

[6] Sweden Expects 190,000 Asylum Seekers in 2015, Euractiv (Oct. 22, 2015), sections/justice-home-affairs/sweden-expects-190000-asylum-seekers-2015-318762, archived at

[7] Asylsökande 2015 och 2014, Migrationsverket (page updated Jan. 4, 2016),, archived at

[8] Applications for Asylum Received, 2015, Migrationsverket, supra note 4.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Asylsökande 2015 och 2014, Migrationsverket, supra note 7.

[12] Utlänningslag [Aliens Act] (Svensk Författningssamling (SFS) 2005:716), rnp/sls/lag/20050716.HTM, archived at

[13] Id. 4 ch. 1, 2, 2a §§.

[14] Press Release, Regeringskansliet, Regeringen föreslår åtgärder för att skapa andrum för svenskt flyktingmottagande (Nov. 24, 2015),, archived at    

[15] States Parties to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol, UNHCR, (last visited Jan. 11, 2016), archived at

[16] 4 ch. 3 § Aliens Act.

[17] Id. 4 ch. 1 §.

[18] Id. 4 ch. 2 § (all translations by author).

[19] Id.

[20] Id. 4 ch. 2a §. 

[23] 5 ch. 1§ Aliens Act.

[27] Frågor och svar om kvotflyktingar, Migrationsverket, supra note 25.

[28] Compare number of quota refugees with total number of asylum seekers, Applications for Asylum Received, 2015, Migrationsverket, supra note 4.

[29] The Swedish Migration Agency Answers Common Questions, Migrationsverket (Dec. 28, 2015),, archived at

[30] Where to Find Us, Migrationsverket (July 6, 2015),, archived at

[32] 4 ch. 3 § Aliens Act.

[33] Syrier får permanent uppehållstillstånd, SVT (Sept. 3, 2013),, archived at

[34] Bred uppgörelse om flyktingsituationen, Sveriges Radio (Oct. 23, 2015), aspx?programid=83&artikel=6286385, archived at

[35] Press Release, Regeringskansliet, supra note 14.

[36] Id.

[37] Id.

[38] Id.; see also the government’s continuously updated webpage for government news and action related to the refugee crisis, Regeringens arbete med flyktingsituationen, Regeringskansliet, regeringens-politik/regeringens-arbete-med-flyktingsituationen/ (last visited Jan. 11, 2016), archived at

[39] Press Release, Regeringskansliet, Regeringen beslutar att tillfälligt återinföra gränskontroll vid inre gräns (Nov. 12, 2015),, archived at

[40] Fartygssäkerhetsförordning [Vessel Safety Regulation] (SFS 2003:438), 20030438.HTM, archived at

[41] Förordning om vissa identitetskontroller vid allvarlig fara för den allmänna ordningen eller den inre säkerheten i landet [Regulation on Certain ID-controls During Serious Risk to the Public Order] (SFS 2015:1074),, archived at

[42] See Frågor och svar: Lag och förordning om identitetskontroller vid allvarlig fara för den allmänna ordningen eller den inre säkerheten i landet, Regeringskansliet (Dec.18, 2015; updated Jan. 4, 2016),, archived at

[43] Press Release, Regeringskansliet, supra note 14.

[44] Socialstyrelsen, Medicinsk åldersbedömning för barn i övre tonåren, 2012-06-26 Dnr 31156/2011 [The National Board of Health and Welfare Report on Medical Age Determination of Children in the Upper Teens, No. 31156/2011 of June 26, 2012], 18780/2012-6-54.pdf, archived at

[45] Anne Ramberg, Sveriges Advokatsamfund [Swedish Bar Association], Cirkulär nr 21/2015, Vägledande uttalande angående medicinska åldersbedömningar i asylärenden [Ethical Guidelines for Medical Age Testing in Asylum Cases] (Oct. 6, 2015), gledande%20uttalanden/Cirkular_21_2015_Vagledande_uttalande_medicinska_aldersbedomningar.pdf, archived at

[46] Press Release, Regeringskansliet, Sverige och Afghanistan inleder förhandlingar om återtagandeavtal (Dec. 4, 2015),, archived at

[47] 8 § Lag om mottagande av asylsökande m.fl. (SFS 1994:137), 19940137.htm, archived at   

[48] Id. 17 §.

[50] Id.

[51] Hälso- och sjukvårdslag [Health Care Act] (SFS 1982:763), 19820763.htm, archived at

[52] Lag om hälso- och sjukvård åt asylsökande m.fl. [Act on Health Care for Asylum Seekers et al.] (SFS 2008:344),, archived at

[53] Id. 1 §.

[54] Id. 5 §.

[56] Lag om mottagande av asylsökande m.fl. [Act on Reception of Asylum Seekers et al.] (SFS 1994:137),, archived at   

[59] Id.

[60] Press Release, Regeringskansliet,Nyanlända elevers rätt till utbildning ska utredas (Nov. 26, 2015),, archived at

[61] Anette Holmqvist, John Granlund, Larmrapporten – uthålligheten tar slut i december, Aftonbladet (Nov. 18, 2016),, archived at

[62] Kommentarer med anledning av flyktingsituationen, Regeringskansliet (Nov. 5, 2015), http://www.regeringen. se/pressmeddelanden/2015/11/kommentarer-med-anledning-av-flyktingsituationen/, archived at

[63] Migrationsverket kan inte längre erbjuda boende till alla asylsökande,Migrationsverket (Nov. 19, 2015),, archived at; Asylsökande tvingades sova utomhus i Malmö, Sveriges Radio (Nov. 20, 2015), sida/artikel.aspx?programid=96&artikel=6306948, archived at

[64] MSB sätter upp “icke varaktiga” flyktingtält som inte kräver bygglov, Dagens Juridik (Nov. 25, 2015),, archived at

[65] Behov av asylboende väger tyngre än de som står i bostadskö – hyresvärd förlorar i hovrätten, Dagens Juridik (Dec. 10, 2015),, archived at

[67] Id.

[68] Press Release, Regeringskansliet, supra note 14.

[69] 11 § Lag om svenskt medborgarskap [Act on Swedish Citizenship] (SFS 2001:82), http://www.notisum. se/rnp/sls/lag/20010082.HTM, archived at   

[70] Id. 8 §.

[71] Id.

[72] Id. 11 §. 

[73] Säpo bedömer allt fler asylärenden, Sveriges Radio (Nov. 10, 2015), programid=83&artikel=6299129, archived at  

[74] Säkerhetspolisens årsbok 2014 [Security Police Annual Report 2014] at 62, http://www.sakerhetspolisen. se/download/18.4c7cab6d1465fb27b01ef6/1426608732902/Arsbok2014_webb.pdf, archived at

[75] Id. at 63.

[76] Id.

[77] Id.

[78] Id.

[79] Id.

[80] Emma Bouvin, 28-åring döms för folkrättsbrott, Dagens Nyheter (Feb. 26, 2015), sverige/28-aring-doms-for-folkrattsbrott/, archived at

[81] 1 ch. 1§ Regeringsformen [RF] [Constitution] (SFS 1974:152), 19740152.htm, archived at

[82] See Ekman, supra note 2.

[83] Proposition [Prop.] [Government Bill] 2015/16:54, Ett gemensamt ansvar för nyanlända [A Shared Responsibility for New Arrivals],, archived at

[84] Id. at 5 (proposed section 7).

[85] 15 § Lag om etableringsinsatser för vissa nyanlända invandrare [Act on Measures for Establishment of Newly Arrived Immigrants] (SFS 2010:197), GetFile.ashx?portalId=56&cat=47592&docId=619301&propId=5, archived at

[86] See Lag om hälso- och sjukvård till vissa utlänningar som vistas i Sverige utan nödvändiga tillstånd [Act on Health Care for Certain Aliens in Sweden Without Necessary Papers] (SFS 2013:407),, archived at

[87] Sveriges Kommuner och Landsting, Ekonomirapporten om kommunernas och landstingens ekonomi – Oktober 2015, pdf/7585-077-1.pdf?issuusl=ignore (in Swedish), archived at; Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions, The Economy Report on Swedish Municipal and County Council Finances – October 2015, (in English), archived at

[88] Press Release, Regeringskansliet, supra note 14.

[89] Id.; see also Uppdrag att ta fram vägledning och föreskrifter till bestämmelserna om tillfälliga anläggningsboenden i plan- och byggförordningen [Assignment to Create Guidelines and Regulations to the Provisions on Temporary Housing in the Building Regulation] (2011:338) Diarienummer: N2015/08896/PUB (delvis), http://www.regeringen. se/regeringsuppdrag/2015/12/uppdrag-att-ta-fram-vagledning-och-foreskrifter-till-bestammelserna-om-tillfalliga-anlaggningsboenden-i-plan--och-byggforordningen-2011338/, archived at  For a list of Swedish government responses and proposals, see Regeringens åtgärder med anledning av flyktingsituationen, Regeringskansliet, atgarder-med-anledning-av-flyktingsituationen/ (last visited Jan. 13, 2016), archived at

[90] Regeringens proposition [Prop.] [Government Bill] 2015/16:47 Extra ändringsbudget för 2015 [Extra Amending Budget for 2015],, archived at

[91] Press Release, Regeringskansliet, Statsministern tog emot Europeiska rådets ordförande Donald Tusk (Nov. 5, 2015),, archived at

[92] Press Release, European Commission, Commission Proposes Temporary Suspension of Sweden’s Obligations Under the EU Relocation Mechanism (Dec. 15, 2015),, archived at