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Asylum-driven migration a “wicked” problem

FOI has completed a strategic analysis of migration to help the Swedish Migration Agency reduce the strain that can arise in the meeting between refugees and the Swedish system.

It can hardly have escaped anyone’s notice that asylum-driven migration to Sweden has emerged as the single most important political question in the last few months. Some say that the system is at a breaking point, and others that there is an accommodation shortage, or that the burden is forcing municipalities to their knees. In a related development, FOI has just published a report on a strategic analysis of migration that was performed during 2013-2015 and commissioned by the Swedish Migration Agency.

“To begin with, we can state that there is a need for a holistic approach to asylum-driven migration to Sweden. Also missing are an individual-based perspective, a shared information pool that can be used in planning various actions, and effective and visible ‘shock absorbers,’” says FOI’s Maria Stenström, a Deputy Research Director and co-author of the report.

Shock absorbers are measures that ensure that a system can continue to perform even when conditions change drastically. An example is when refugees who have already received a residence permit are allowed to continue staying in the Swedish Migration Agency’s refugee accommodations – even though the agency is then no longer responsible for that – while they wait for the Swedish Public Employment Service to assign them lodgings in a municipality.

“The current reception system is shaped much like a puzzle that requires stable conditions in order to function. When the conditions change quickly the pieces don’t fit. And asylum-driven migration is not an easy puzzle to solve. In fact, it’s one of society’s wicked problems. We call such problems ‘wicked’ because they haven’t really even been formulated yet, and different interests and experts have different solutions for different problems,” says Erik Carlson, who also worked on the analysis.

FOI’s researchers, together with the Migration Agency, have developed “strategic migration analysis” – based on morphological analysis, a scientific method – to work with these problems. FOI is a leader in the field of morphological analysis, which can be simply described as a method for dealing with complex and wicked issues. The issues are broken down into separate parts that are first studied individually and then together, to create a comprehensive overview.

Planning for asylum-driven migration is a classic example of just the kind of question that morphological analysis is designed to tackle:

-- it has a number of major uncertainties – for example, about which groups are on their way, when they’ll arrive, how many they’ll be and in what condition;

-- it includes many obligations that society must deal with – assessing asylum applications, housing, livelihood, education and health and medical care;

-- it involves numerous affected parties – for example, asylum-seeking migrants, local communities, municipalities, the Migration Agency, the Swedish Public Employment Service, the Swedish Tax Agency and the Swedish Police – while the political responsibility is shared by several departments.

All in all this creates the need to be prepared for various developments as they arise so that large-scale disruption, both in society and for the refugees themselves, can be avoided.

The question that the researchers have tried to answer in the report is, briefly: What can the Migration Agency do to avoid straining the system? Their conclusions concern the Migration Agency, although most of the measures they propose require coordination with other authorities.

The main conclusion they draw is that the Migration Agency should always, whatever the situation, serve as a knowledge base for other authorities. The Migration Agency should also contribute to an increased emphasis on the individual’s perspective in the asylum process. The Migration Agency today functions as a shock absorber in the asylum process and will need to continue in that role. But the question of where, and when, should be examined so that its shock absorbers are effective from society’s perspective.

Beyond those measures and to the extent that the Migration Agency is directly affected, it should push ahead in solving already-known problems. One such problem involves so-called coordination numbers, which the authorities use instead of the civic registration number, during the period when an asylum-seeker is awaiting a residence permit. Today, each authority assigns its own number, which can cause problems in a number of areas, such as patient safety in the medical system, among others. If every individual was to receive only one coordination number, much would be gained.

Increasing the focus on the individual can be achieved, the authors propose, if the relevant authorities use society’s obligations as a point in common. The obligations that the study identifies are:

Housing, Local service, Residence permits, Providing for livelihood, Work and education (adults), School and pre-school (children), Health and medical care, Registration in the Swedish Population Register, ID cards and coordination numbers, Reunification of families, Repatriation...

“We have seen that it’s easier to cooperate when there is a common task, and for that the concept of obligations works well,” consider Maria Stenström and Erik Carlson.

In the report, the researchers have worked with the relevant authorities and analysed problems and measures that relate to the various obligations that they identified. The idea is that the study can be used as a point of departure for a more detailed analysis of what needs to be done to reduce the strain caused by different developments, as they arise.

FOI, Swedish Defence Research Agency

Swedish Defence Research Agency
SE-164 90 Stockholm

Phone +46 8 555 030 00
Fax +46 8 555 031 00

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