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Iraqi Assyrian Refugees Flocking to Sweden
By Michael Ireland

3/20/07 Iraq/Sweeden (Assist News Service) — In the town of Södertälje , Sweden , the number of Iraqis has increased from 750 to 5,300 in five years, says labor market coordinator Aydin Özkaya.
Just last year 1,052 refugees came to Södertälje. The Swedish Migration Authority says the municipality will receive at least 2,000 more Iraqi refugees this year.

To get the situation under control, the municipality has employed more than 20 people to work at the so-called Introduction Unit, writes Nuri Kino in an article for EasternStar News, as distributed by the Assyrian International News Agency.

“It is not enough to employ more handling officers. The situation is cumbersome. It will be chaos, and honestly we cannot answer what we are going to do. More municipalities, particularly in Stockholm County , must take their responsibility. The USA — the whole country — has decided to take 7,000 Iraqi refugees, when we in Södertälje at the same time on our own have almost reached that amount,” says Özkaya.

Kino says the reason for this situation is that in Sweden you can choose where you want to live when you are applying for asylum. Most of the Christian Iraqis who come to Sweden want to settle in Södertälje, mainly because of the city’s already large Christian population from the Middle East . Every fifth inhabitant of Södertälje is of Assyrian (Syriac or Chaldean) origin.

“Sometimes they do not even know that Södertälje is in Sweden , but they want to come here,” says Catarina Helling, Chief of the municipality’s Introduction Unit.

She says that the reason for the problems is that the politics applied assume that asylum seekers know the Swedish society. But that is not correct. They come to Södertälje where they do not have to know Swedish to get around.

The Multicultural Family Centre association had a meeting with the Swedish Migration authority in Solna, to start a Swedish-for-immigrants language course. Today every asylum seeker has to go to Solna, thirty miles away, to be educated in Swedish.

Many therefore choose not to attend the courses. Non-Muslim Iraqis flee in thousands from Iraq and human rights activists warn that the country will soon be ethnically cleansed from it’s minority groups, says Kino.

In their war against USA , Muslim leaders make the Christians in Iraq look like the enemy. Because USA and Great Britain are Christian countries, fundamentalists accuse Christians for the war, Kino states.

“Most of them who can escape from Mosul and Baghdad do it,” says an Assyrian journalist from Mosul .

The organization Minority Rights Group International calls it “The Christian Exodus.” Rape, forced conversion, kidnappings, bomb attacks against churches and beheadings are a part of the everyday life of the Christians.

An organization that for a long time has fought to help the Christians in Iraq is the Society for Threatened People. Their Middle East expert Janet Abraham in Munich , southern Germany , says that too little is being done and that it might be to late.

Kino writes that Abraham says Christian Assyrians and other ethnic and religious minorities live under terrible circumstances in Iraq right now. The situation is also critical in the neighboring countries where hundreds of thousands have fled. This is the biggest population movement in modern times. Abraham says this situation could be a complete disaster for all of Iraq , but mainly for the minorities, which might disappear completely.

One Family’s Story of Escape from Terror

One afternoon in September last year Saed’s eleven-year-old son disappeared. A few hours later the phone rang. They called themselves Muhammed’s army and they demanded $400,000 for releasing the boy. This was money that Saed did not have and did not have any chance to find. But the kidnappers did not give up. Either the money or Sargon’s decapitated head in a bag.

Saed panicked. He had too little money saved. He knew this day would come, but the money he had saved was not nearly enough. After two days he had sold all the gold that the family could bring up and he borrowed the rest so that he had now had 30,000 dollars. The kidnappers accepted it and released Sargon.

The same night they released his son, Saed began to plan the family’s flight to Södertälje. They were a relatively rich family and lived in a big house. They sold the house and the land around it for the ridiculous sum of $90,000. This was money that actually was enough to smuggle them from Baghdad to Amman and from Amman to Södertälje. And unlike most other non-Muslim families they did not get stuck in Jordan or Syria .

Today the family, two adults and two children, lives in a two-room apartment in a part of the city called Hovsjö. They do not care if they are living in a small space. They are even waiting for more relatives to come and live with them.

“I would rather live in a basement in a city were my children do not get kidnapped than living in a big house in Baghdad ,” Saed says when he shows visitors the apartment.

Samira Hardo Gharib, chairman of the Multicultural Family Centre in Södertälje, has worked with Iraqi refugees for twelve years. She has recently visited Syria and there she met many Christian Iraqis who are on their way to Södertälje.

The football teams Assyriska and Syrianska, both national federations, the church parishes, and the fact that Suroyo-TV is broadcast from Södertälje has made the city known for Christians in the entire Middle East .

There is a lot of complaining about living in confined conditions, and it is true that people live cramped circumstances. But it is a much better alternative than being kidnapped, raped and murdered, the refugees say.

The Iraqis at the association all agree. Then they break their way in to the discussion. Everyone wants to tell about the brutalities against non-Muslims. Saed’s friend Ninor talks about the “butchers,” Islamic extremists, that can be rented by different groups to behead kidnapped persons.

The front door is opened, two children enter and it gets quiet. It is Sargon and a friend. The parents do not want anyone to talk about the violence in Iraq in front of him, nor remind him of the days he was kidnapped.

Visitors are invited for coffee and to discuss the future of non-Muslims in Iraq . The Iraqis are convinced that presence of Assyrians (Syriacs and Chaldeans) and other non-Muslim minorities will soon be nothing but history.

**Saed, Sargon and Ninor are assumed names in this article, in order to not reveal the persons’ actual identities.