A number of asylum-seeking children in Sweden have developed a pervasive loss of function associated with profound social withdrawal. The syndrome is called Depressive Devitalization. The aim of this study was to identify possible aetiological factors, outline the similarities between Depressive Devitalization and Pervasive Refusal Syndrome and to explore possible differential diagnoses. The research was based on a literature study. Databases searched included PsychINFO, Medline, Pub med, COCHRANE and PILOTS. Possible aetiological factors identified included: Children having a perfectionist, ambitious and conscientious premorbid personality, psychiatric problems of children and parents, and traumatic events. Symptoms between the two syndromes differed only in pattern of refusal and neurological symptoms. None of the differential diagnoses explored could account for all features. The individual impact of aetiological factors requires further investigation. Children might previously have been diagnosed with a number of differential diagnoses, though none of these accounts for all symptoms seen in the syndromes. Depressive Devitalization and Pervasive Refusal Syndrome are suggested to be subgroups of the same refusal syndrome.