22 February 2024

Two batches of refugees escaped the war in Bosnia to come to Sweden. One was quickly given permanent residency while the other had to spend several years in uncertainty. Researchers at LiU have now investigated the consequences of their different living conditions. The result is unexpected.

Portrait of professor Zoran Slavnic.
The research results surprised Zoran Slavnic. Jonas Roslund

Professor Zoran Slavnic at the Division of Migration, Ethnicity and Society fled from Bosnia to Sweden in late 1992. He belonged to a group of more than 50,000 people who were granted permanent residency by government decision in June 1993.

They had then been waiting eight months on average for a decision.

Under threat of deportation

After that, Sweden tightened the conditions. Bosnian refugees were no longer allowed to enter. But Croats were, which opened up an opportunity for Bosnians with dual citizenship. About 6,000 people came to Sweden in this way between 1993 and 1994.

But unlike the first group, they were forced to live with temporary residence permits and at times under threat of deportation. Some chose to go into hiding. Only after four years were the roughly 2,000 people who remained given permanent residency.

I think the lesson is to avoid being rigid.

Using statistics from Statistics Sweden, Zoran Slavnic, together with his colleague Ognjen Obúcina, has compared the groups at three points in time: 2000, 2008 and 2016. How many had jobs? How much did they earn? And how was their health?

The researchers also examined how their children had fared at school, how many had post-secondary education and what income they had at the age of 30.

Small differences in the long run

Previous research shows that a long period of uncertainty makes it more difficult for refugees to integrate. The researchers expected that effect here as well. Surprisingly, there was no big difference between the groups. Sometimes, those who had lived in uncertain circumstances had done somewhat better.

“There are very small differences, but even when they’re the same, that’s a surprise,” says Zoran Slavnic.

Old bridge in Mostar, Bosnia.The Old bridge in Mostar, Bosnia. Photo credit ToolX

In 2000, the share of people in employment was a few percentage points higher for the group that had a safer life. In 2008 and 2016, the ratio was reversed by a few percentage points. The differences in income were gone and health, measured in the number of sick leave days, was equally good in both groups.

In the case of young people, the inclination to continue to post-secondary studies was equally great in both groups. But if factors such as the parents’ level of education were also taken into account, the probability was actually higher that a young person from the more vulnerable group would continue to study.

Two explanations

Since the two groups compared are so different in size, Zoran Slavnic does not want to draw too far-reaching conclusions, but he mainly has two explanations for the results. One is that the reception received by the first group was based more on the needs of the authorities than on the needs of the people.

“If a municipality in northern Sweden had the capacity to receive 30 people, they wanted to do so. The municipality needed the money and the state needed to get rid of the responsibility for the refugees. Then you could end up in a municipality that had no means to help you,” says Zoran Slavnic.

The more vulnerable group, however, had to take their own initiatives. Moreover, since they received support from both private individuals and organisations such as the Church of Sweden, they got a social network early on that they could rely on later.

The second explanation is that the long asylum process led to only the most stubborn and ambitious people being able to stay in Sweden. Once they were allowed to stay, they were better able to cope than the first group. Therefore, Zoran Slavnic believes that the results of the study do not contradict all other research that shows that long-term uncertainty is harmful to the individual.

Rather, it shows the shortcomings of bureaucratic thinking.

“I think the lesson is to avoid being rigid. Your starting point should be the needs of the individual. That way you get better results than when you push people into solutions that the authorities have agreed on,” says Zoran Slavnic.

The study is published in Migracijske in Etniĉke Teme and was funded by Forte.

Translation: Anneli Mosell

Article: Between Uncertainty and Integration: Exploring the Influence of Legal Precarity on Refugee Socio-Economic Integration in Sweden, Z Slavnic, Ognjen Obúcina, included in: Migracijske i Etniĉke Teme, Vol. 39, no 1, p. 31-55, 2023, doi: 10.11567/met.39.1.2

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