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Iraqi refugees find the door to Sweden closing

ICC Note

Sweden used to open its doors to Iraqi refugees, including many Iraqi Christians. But recently the country has closed it doors to the refugees. This is causing enormous difficulty to the Iraqis. The government of Sweden should consider granting asylum. At the same time, countries such as the United States and Britain should also start accepting more Iraqi refugees into their countries.

By Kim Murphy

07/13/2008 Iraq (latimes) – Naseir’s daughter was 7 when a local gang leader saw her on a Baghdad street and passed on the word: She was beautiful, and in a year or two, the man would take her as his wife. Until then, she would need to begin wearing a veil when she went out playing, and practice the principles of Islam, even though she wasn’t Muslim.

To Naseir, this meant two things. One: “Basically, he was talking about raping my daughter.” And two: “We had to get out of there.”

Naseir paid a driver to get him and his family across the border into Syria , then launched a desperate odyssey alone by taxi, truck, plane and rubber dinghy to reach Sweden , long Europe’s most hospitable gateway for people fleeing the war in Iraq .

But amid a refugee flood that has taxed even this Scandinavian nation’s traditional liberal compassion, Sweden has dramatically narrowed the standards for granting asylum to people from Iraq , Afghanistan and Somalia .

Naseir, who imagined that he would soon be calling his family to join him in Sweden , now finds himself facing deportation, and has gone into hiding to avoid the police.

The change in policy stems from a new immigration law and an appeals court ruling this year that found, incredibly to many Swedes and refugee advocates, that legally there is no internal armed conflict in Iraq — allowing deportation of asylum seekers to their home country.

“They say there is no armed conflict in any part of Iraq . There is no armed conflict in Somalia ; there is no armed conflict anywhere in the Middle East . There is armed conflict in five or six of the most southern parts of Afghanistan ,” said Kalle Larsson, a Left Party member of parliament who has sought to preserve asylum opportunities in Sweden .

Last year, more than 18,500 Iraqis sought asylum in Sweden . By comparison, the U.S. processed 734 Iraqi asylum applicants in 2007, and Britain handled 2,075, although these countries are the main military forces in the war.

But the doorway is narrowing sharply.

The city has been flooded with refugees from Iraq , mainly Christian Assyrians who have been among the most heavily threatened populations since the war began in 2003. Naseir is a member of another threatened Iraqi minority, the Mandaeans, who revere John the Baptist.

Since 2006, nearly 7,000 Iraqis have streamed into town, and 1,200 more are expected this year. Combined with other mainly Christian immigrants who fled in earlier years from Iraq , Syria and Turkey , foreign-born residents and their children now make up nearly 40% of the city’s population.

The city has urged authorities to settle new immigrants in other parts of the country, where they are more likely to find jobs and apartments.

“The whole thing’s gone totally haywire. We have more Iraqis who have come here to Sodertalje than went to the whole United States ,” said Ulla Glantz, 64, a lifelong resident of the city.

“When I came, nobody gave me a house, no money. . . . I am working for that all this time, I’m working every day,” said Aydin Sharro, 42, an Assyrian who immigrated to Sodertalje from Turkey as a child in 1976, when his father was hired at the local truck factory. “But all them, none of them are working, and they expect to have the same as I have.

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