Battered, raped, and without any kind of rights.
That’s the situation for many “paperless” women in Sweden. These illegal women flee their homes and become prostitutes in order to survive.
Last year there was a breaking trend: 50 “paperless” women contacted the Somaya women’s shelter in Stockholm, more than ever before. These women had no money and no rights. They had been harmed and feared for their lives.

“These are lawless people who don’t have the same rights as you and I,” says Susanna Namaanim, operational leader at Somaya. The women’s shelters rely on money from the woman’s home municipality in order to help give her a safe place to live. In Göteborg and Malmö the municipalities themselves can extend the money – but in Stockholm there’s no help if you have no papers. The municipalities won’t pay.
“Many of these women need protection, but don’t receive any,” says Namaanim. The organization “Ingen människa är illegal” (No human is illegal) can help women on the run to get in contact with churches or parishes. But it’s not always a spot for a woman with a child. They can also help the women get in touch with lawyers who won’t charge them for legal services. Namaani explains that many women who hide, are forced to take on slave-like jobs, and they might be given somewhere to live in exchange for sexual favors.


“This sort of lawlessness is worse than the wild west,” she says. “They have their own employment agency, prostitution, and criminality. But that world remains invisible to the rest of us. These people live in an extremely vulnerable situation. They might live like that for four years before Migrationsverket (the Swedish Migration Board) can re-examine their decision.” Apart from the violence these women are already experiencing, there’s a structural hunt for them by Swedish police. “Fear is something these people have always lived with,” Namaanim concludes.

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