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Assyrian Refugees in Sweden Caught in Political Struggle

ICC Note

Thousands of Iraqi Christians have left their homes due to the persecution they faced in their country. Some of them have settled in Western countries such as Sweden .

06/18/2009 Iraq (AINA)-When Iraqi refugees cram together in the small Swedish town of Södertälje it becomes World news. When they are expelled to an Iraq where they are no longer welcome the silence thickens. Refugees gather to watch the news. The Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki has met with the Pope and promised him that he will protect the Christians who wish to return to Iraq .

“How will he protect anyone? He doesn’t even dare to leave the Green zone.” One of the older men shakes his head and shows me a document from the Swedish Migration Board. It says that he is refused asylum. The Migration Board says it doesn’t doubt the applicant’s claims of murder threats, murdered relatives and persecution. It’s just not enough to grant asylum in Sweden . The Migration Board opines that he does not have enough individual reasons to stay here.

I live in a small city with beautiful Swedish pretzels as its symbol. The facades and the buildings do not differ much from other places in Sweden . The city is surrounded by water and elegant greenery that grows like nowhere else in the country. New neighborhoods with boastful stone villas are constructed by the canal and the lake.

It is the influx of people in 2008 that has put Södertälje on the world map. The Iraqis that are packed together in Södertälje are even discussed in the American Congress. The small town inhabits more refugees from the ongoing Iraq war than the entire U.S.A.

The people also got two different denominations, Assyrians and Syriacs. Thirty years later a third denomination was added: Chaldeans. I personally stick with Assyrian.

Regardless of what we call ourselves and why we haven’t been able to decide what we should be called, we are part of the story of modern Sweden . It started in 1967 when two air planes were filled with so called quota refugees; Assyrians without a state that had “fled” to Lebanon from Turkey and Syria . The planes landed in Sweden . The Swedish industry was screaming for laborers and the Assyrians, most of them young, were invited to dig in.

A Greek Cypriot named Makarios had declared war on Turkey . The wheel was set in motion. In my home town of Midyat Christian Assyrians were suddenly accused by their Muslim neighbors of being traitors. Muslims had held a large demonstration and fights broke out between Christian and Muslim youth. One of the Muslim clan leaders had managed to temporarily end the violence, but the situation was still dangerous. The elders hadn’t forgotten the genocide during WWI and they spread the fear to the younger.

During WWI 2.65 million Christians were killed in the east parts of Turkey . The exact number is still debated and Turkey has yet to acknowledge the genocide; when France recently did so it led to tense relations between the countries. In Turkey the chief editor of a magazine that had written about the genocide was murdered. Speaking of persecution is controversial. It’s like we can only fit a certain number of persecutions and genocides in a collective history.

The adults gathered in the 99 to discuss the future. It didn’t seem possible for Assyrians to stay in Turkey anymore. And the doomsday prophets were proven right. Almost. Turabdin today is nearly emptied of Assyrians. Only a sliver, a few thousand Assyrians, remain in the area. In Sweden alone there are today 40,000 people that originate from Turabdin. Half of the Assyrians living in Mesopotälje come from there. The rest are from Syria , Lebanon and Iraq . Only a few are from Iran .

I and the other kids who first came to Södertälje soon found ourselves in something of an identity crisis. In school we were taught to think individually and to think of our own needs first. At home we were given strict orders not to act selfishly. The needs of other family members had the upper hand. We learned that lying was a sin. But to stay in Sweden we lied to the Migration Board and pretended that mom was the sister of my aunt-in-law. We cheated in all ways we could in order for us to stay in Sweden and to rescue more Assyrians who risked death in Turkey .

Some thirty years later our town becomes World news. Mesopotälje has taken in more refugees from war-torn Iraq than has the U.S. Yes, more refugees than most other European countries. 6,000. Syria and Jordan has received more than 2 million, but it is from Södertälje that every news channel chooses to report from. The news is simply the large number of refugees. When it comes to the reasons to why they are there, that the minorities in Iraq have been ethnically and religiously cleansed, most of the media stay silent.

A year later, in June of 2004, a missile was fired at a church in Baghdad . In the terror war between religious groups that broke out after the US invasion, civilians of all religions and ethnicities have suffered greatly. The most defenseless are the minorities. The Christians have become an easy target for different Islamic militia groups. Whether they want to or not, they are seen as an ally to the enemy, the U.S.A. , simply because they share religion.

Many Assyrians also started working for the Americans right after the invasion, and that aided the collective stamping of the Assyrians as traitors. When the security situation deteriorated, the kidnappings, rapes and murders started. Those who had helped the Americans were forced to flee in panic.

They begged their liberators for help and protection. But the Americans, their fellow Christians, did not show up. Jihadists delivered DVD’s to every Christian home which contained photos of young Assyrian men that had their heads cut off in front of the camera.

In February of last year the government of Sweden made an “agreement of returning Iraqis” with the government of Iraq . After that the forced deportations were supposed to speed up. In Stockholm county, where the police had received 3,600 cases from the Migration Board, 3,400 people have gone underground and are now wanted by the police.

The Iraqis in Södertälje offer a range of new business opportunities. Later that evening I am sitting in a room for Iraqi asylum seekers. A young man approaches me cautiously and asks “will I be thrown out of the country if I have committed a crime in Sweden ?” He tells me that he hit an old man with his car at the parking lot. He was backing out of the parking spot and didn’t see the man until it was too late. Afterwards he apologized and asked if he should call an ambulance. The older man had answered that he was ok and that Nishwan, the Iraqi, shouldn’t worry. The next time Nishwan came to the parking lot the older man’s son had appeared and told Nishwan that he knew that he was an asylum seeker that lived in 99, and that he had hit his dad with his car. Now he wanted 10,000 SEK, otherwise, he said, he would report Nishwan to the Migration Board.

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