It was last July when 56-year-old dental hygienist Bernt Herlitz popped in to attend one of the seminar events of the great annual political shindig on the island of Gotland called Almedalen. That decision changed his life and possibly ruined it.
Almedalen is like the party political conferences in the UK – except all rolled up into one single week-long political networking event. All seven major parties have their seminars and conferences, and thousands of lobbyists, NGOs, journalists and various hangers-on and politically interested people also attend. The old walls of the medieval city of Visby echo to chatter, music and laughter as Sweden’s political creme de la creme mingle, network and drink cheap rose wine.
Herlitz and his wife, island natives out for a stroll, popped into a seminar on a subject which interested them greatly. The theme of the seminar was “age judgments in judicial cases and sports events”. The couple had a lot of experience on this topic as both worked on the teeth belonging to the so-called unaccompanied refugee children.
Sweden received 35,000 “unaccompanied minors” in 2015, and tens of thousands in the years before and since, more than any other European country. They are the most controversial element in the whole immigration issue as most of them, it is alleged, are far older than they claim to be. Often in their twenties, sometimes in their thirties – even in their 40s. Some of them have grey hair or are balding, according to stories confidentially reported from inside the Migration Agency and available on various websites.
Nearly all of them, like refugees in general, claim to have “lost” their passports en route. But there is also an incentive for them to lie, as under 18s get automatic residence permits and a better kind of care home. While older asylum seekers live in large reception centres until their residence permits come through, the unaccompanied minors live in much smaller, cosier institutions with on-call therapists and care home managers. This is expensive: the average “unaccompanied minor” costs the state 1 million kronor a year. The 35,000 who came in 2015 cost more than the annual Swedish defence budget.
The Swedish media abounds with tales from disaffected care home managers who complain they are being bullied by these men-children to drive them into or pick them from town, or who refuse to go to bed on time, 10pm, or do their homework. (Of course – as most of them are men in their 20s or older and not the teens they claim to be). Many of them go to local school classes where they mix with Swedish boys and girls aged 14, 15 or 16. The whole thing is beyond absurd but for many years the Swedish government, strongly influenced by the refugee-activist/feminist/journalist lobby, refused to, as they did in more sensible Norway and Denmark, conduct wrist X-ray tests to independently ascertain the age of the young men. To do so was “racist”. Nevertheless, the Danes found that 80% of those they tested were actually older than they claimed to be. The ones who were lying were sent home. Now, belatedly, Sweden too is conducting age tests – and the results are found to be the same as in Denmark. Most of them are men, not boys, and shouldn’t be treated as such. A lot of egg on a lot of Swedish opinion-formers’ faces. But it is very unlikely that the refugee activists in the media and political elite will ever say sorry.
Wrist X rays are not the only way to determine someone’s ages. You can also do it by looking at someone’s teeth – and that is something that Herlitz did, for a living, as dental hygienist, day after day. The whole thing had become embarrassingly obvious.
Gotland, a small island in the middle of the Baltic, famous for the old town of Visby and sandy beaches which every year attract hundreds of thousands of tourists, has recently become a placement area for many homes for unaccompanied minors. Free dental care was one privilege they enjoyed. Many had bad teeth. Many came to see Herlitz.
And many had fully grown wisdom teeth.
“You only see that in fully grown people,” Herlitz told the Swedish journalist Egor Putilov , who first broke the story for a web magazine called Samnytt.
This finding was something several staff at Herlitz’c clinic had come to agree on – they talked about it during coffee breaks, talked about how and whether they should raise the matter with their superiors. These were men, not children. Herlitz got chatting to a senior official at the Migration Agency about this, during drinks after the seminar. Her name was Asa Carlander Hemingway. She said that of course it was important to get their ages right and all suspicions ought to be presented to the Migration Agency. So starting in August last year, Herlitz started sending emails to the Migration Agency, where he explained that they were lying and the dental evidence showed it. Eight emails in all, explaining that the ages in the Migration-Agency issued documents were wrong.
“This was important, not least because adults should not be living under the same roof as children.”
However, he never received any reply from the Migration Agency. Instead, the Migration Agency fowarded the emails to the responsible guardian in charge of the “unaccompanied minors’” wellbeing. The guardian contacted Herltz’s boss, Mats Kvarnberg.
Herlitz told the Samnytt newspaper: “The boss told me to come to a separate room where another senior manager was sitting. They told me not to come to work tomorrow. I was suspended and they were going to conduct an investigation.”
“It was a blow. But I didn’t then realise the seriousness of it. I told the woman from the Migration Agency and she said I should report it. I thought the matter would take a few days to clear up.”
Two weeks later, the investigation completed, the bad news got worse, as he was permanently fired after ten years of loyal employment at the Regional Health Authority. The reason: because he had violated his patients’ privacy, allegedly. The local press called him a right-wing extremist and a rattshaverist ( a very Swedish expression which means someone who, by all means, may be right, technically, but who is nevertheless a troublemaker in the context of the Swedish collectivity). But Herlitz was neither a right wing extremist nor a political activist, but a low-profile cellphone technology worker who had been laid off in 2003 and reskilled himself along with his wife as a dental hygienist, a job for which there was a lot of demand. Eventually Swedish State Television SVT was on the story – but they never contacted him for a comment. Admittedly they left his name out of the published report but since Gotland is a small island where everybody knows everybody it wasn’t hard to work out who the story was about.
Despairing of his chances of ever getting another job at the age of 56, and depressed that he now had nothing to do, and little money to spend, he eventually appealed to the tingsratt, the lowest court – and won. There was no cause for the sacking, the court determined. Nevertheless his employers were within their rights to let him go. He did not get much, but it was something: 5000 kronor in damages and the obligation on the local council to pay him six months of income. After he had paid his court costs (both sides did so, as per Swedish custom) he had made a small profit. It could have been worse. The court said he had breached his patient confidentiality but also admitted none of his patients had suffered harm.
Bolstered by the health authority’s financial compensation, he started to look at his options. What to do next? But then came the next blow. His employers, the Regional Health authorities of Gotland, appealed to the highest labour court in Stockholm and hired one of Sweden’s top ranking jurists in employment law in Sweden, according to Chambers Europe. Herlitz was told that the lawyer always wins his cases – and the fact that this superlawyer charged 450,000 kronor, mattered less to the Region of Gotland – with its deep pockets – than the fact that going to court again would likely bankrupt Herlitz. On top of the court costs, if he loses the appeal he will be whacked with another million or two million kronor. If he can’t pay within 30 days the bailiffs will turn up, seizing their flat, furniture, everything….
Putilov, the journalist at Samnytt, phoned the officials determined to take this as far as they could, and discovered they wanted to turn this into a test case. As for Herlitz, he says that, until this happened, he had a good, secure life. He counted on being protected by society but now discovered all too late that there was nothing that could help him when he was unfairly treated. He has started to fear the Swedish state.
Here is the link to article (Swedish)
Here is a link to Herlitz’s financial appeal (Swedish)