Sick Swedish Asylum Children Baffle Experts
Apr. 27, 2005 - Swedish investigators are baffled by a mysterious illness affecting over 400 children of asylum-seekers, mostly from former Soviet and Yugoslav states, who fall into a deep depression and lose the will to live.
The government presented its first study of the so-called "apathetic children" Wednesday, after King Carl XVI Gustav added his voice to a chorus of concern from charities, church groups and politicians who want them protected from deportation.
"It is dreadful what is happening to these poor children," the Swedish king told reporters.
The condition is known as Pervasive Refusal Syndrome and can be life-threatening. It affects boys and girls of all ages, but mostly aged 8-15, who refuse to speak, move, eat or drink for days or many months, and must be drip-fed to keep them alive.
Virtually unknown before 2000, the condition has been seen on a large scale only in Sweden. But the researchers ruled out that the children were faking their condition.
"I have never believed that," said researcher Nader Ahmadi. He has documented 409 cases in the last two years -- many more than the 150 cases originally reported. But the data raised more questions than it answered, as he acknowledged.
"Why have these cases apparently only happened in Sweden? Why do they mostly come from such specific places in the world?" asked Ahmadi.
More than 61 percent of the children come from the former Soviet Union, mostly Central Asia and the Caucasus, and 26 percent from the former Yugoslavia, especially Kosovo.
Neither does approval of their families' asylum petition necessarily cure the children, he said -- some get well right away but others have remained seriously ill for up to a year.
Charities like the Red Cross and Save the Children have criticized the Social Democrat government for refusing to give the children an amnesty or legal protection from deportation.
Immigration Minister Barbro Holmberg has argued that all asylum petitions must be dealt with individually. Authorities continue to deport such children, when it deems their lives are not at grave risk and they will receive good care in their homelands.
But the father of two girls from Azerbaijan suffering from the syndrome who now face deportation said it was "not true at all" that they would receive good care back home. The family suffered violent persecution there for being half Armenian.
Elvira, aged 13, has been in a coma-like state for months and now her sister Eleonora, aged 7, is slipping into the same state. "Last week Eleonora refused to eat, drink or go to the toilet," their father, Abulfat, told Reuters.
Copyright 2005 Reuters News Service.
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