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Sustainable Solutions to the Refugee Crisis

28 March 2017

Ulrik Åshuvud (UWC Adriatic, 1984 - 1986) has worked in the field of justice and home affairs for more than 22 years.

His work, both in government and consultancy agencies, has focused on rule of law, migration and refugees, with a particular interest in how to ensure protection to all people seeking refuge or a dignified return to their home. Here is his story.

In the 90s, Ulrik was the first Secretary of the Task Force on Organised Crime in the Baltic Sea Region, and was responsible for developing a strategic and operative regional approach against organised crime, on behalf of the Swedish government. Ulrik then went on to work as Justice and Home Affairs Counsellor for the Swedish Government in Brussels. Starting his position in September 2001, his role came to focus on the post 9/11 EU response with new legal instruments in the field of terrorism and criminal law, such as the European Arrest Warrant. “Sadly, today, those instruments are more needed and used than ever”, Ulrik says reflecting on his time in Brussels. After working with the Ministry of Justice for more than 11 years, he worked as a senior consultant in development cooperation in the justice sector assisting Government agencies in countries such as Vietnam, Mozambique, South Africa, Malawi and Croatia. In 2007, he became Chief of Staff for European and International Affairs at the Swedish Migration Agency and later moved to the operational part of the Agency. Since 2010, he has worked in the field of reception of asylum seekers, both as Head of Unit and Regional Head of Department of Reception. He has also been the National Head for the return and detention process and has worked in particular with creating a safe and humane process for unaccompanied minors having to return to their countries of origin. His work has involved opening up an exchange with the responsible Ministries and agencies of both Afghanistan and Iraq in cooperation with the Netherlands, UK and Norway, to ensure the best possible protection mechanisms were in place. During the autumn of 2015, when the so called “refugee crisis” occurred, he was Head of Contingency for the Stockholm region and was faced with one of the biggest professional challenges he had confronted so far in his career. Sweden received 163.000 asylum seekers during 2015. Towards the end of 2015, the Government decided to take up border controls in parts of Sweden and also decided that the National Aliens Act should quickly be amended during the spring of 2016. This was done in order to change from a system of permanent residence permits to a system of temporary residence permits for persons in need of protection.

In order to be able to contribute with developing solutions independently and with a multidisciplinary approach, in May 2016 Ulrik founded JustDevelop – a consultancy firm and think-tank that specialises in justice and home affairs – with an initial particular focus on migration. Ulrik sees the need for a global effort to develop a new and more sustainable approach to the refugee situation and in particular how protection is ensured. “The solution is not to be found in different national, more or less protective, measures, at least not if you want to take responsibility for upholding the right of asylum.”

“Sweden now sees much lower numbers of asylum seekers, even if the number of displaced persons and persons in need of protection is bigger than it was at the same time last year. This is obviously a contradiction in itself. The Common European Asylum System has never really become a true reality and has definitely not worked since the autumn of 2015. The possibility of finding a joint EU solution and way forward is probably smaller than ever, and the questionable Turkey agreement has just postponed the need for developing solutions that can work over time. The measures now being put in place after the failed coup in Turkey are showing the fragility of the democratic stability in a country that EU has played almost all its cards with. What happens if (and when) the Turkey agreement falls? The Greek asylum and reception system is still not up to standard and will most probably not sustain a new refugee wave. We still need to bear in mind that the need for protection is probably bigger this autumn than last year”.

Reflecting on the role the UWC community can play with regard to the refugee crises, Ulrik reflects on the role of the upcoming UWC Congress which will take place on 28 - 29 October 2016 in Trieste, Italy. He says: “When the UWC Congress will take place at the end of October, the discussions on the refugee situation will be of high importance. How can UWC, through its global network of alumni and present students, contribute to finding sustainable solutions? Can UWC be part of a solution that would decrease the need for protection in the world?”.

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