Double-edged risk: unaccompanied minor refugees (UMRs) in Sweden and their search for safety

Amber Horning, Sara V Jordenö, Nicole Savoie - Journal of Refugee Studies


Many unaccompanied minor refugees (UMRs) arrived in Sweden with the mass exodus of refugees who fled to the EU in 2015. UMRs are individuals who are under 18 years of age, outside their country of origin and separated from legal care-givers (Separated Children in Europe Programme 2004). In 2016, Swedish public opinion of asylum seekers began to shift from sympathy to fear (Kärrman 2015Herz 2018) and Sweden implemented policies restricting UMRs’ rights. It was at this pivotal moment that we interviewed UMRs in two youth asylum-centres in rural Sweden. We contextualized this analysis through our concept of ‘double-edged risk’—that is, being at risk despite being viewed as risky. Portrayals of risky refugees depict them as manipulative, and even predatory (Banks 2012). Many of these minors lacked agency from the inception of their journey to the EU to their waiting for their asylum decision. For instance, all of the UMRs in this study were forced by parents to leave and stated they would not have taken the journey had they known the dangers. Initially, we sought to understand how UMRs garnered agency in light of their ‘double-edged’ risk; however, the most salient theme that emerged was their search for safety. In order to attain safety, many of these UMRs resiliently relinquished agency. These findings demystify ideas of the ‘dangerous’ refugee and are useful for understanding UMRs’ plight for refuge in the EU and to improving policies that thwart UMRs’ development.