“We have gone through hundreds of asylum rejections with lawyers, and we have seen fatal mistakes being made.”
With numerous attacks against Iraq’s Christians in recent weeks — including a Halloween day massacre in a Baghdad church, which left 52 dead — the country’s religious minority fears for its survival within the boundaries of the Middle Eastern nation. Yet, a long way from their native land, many Iraqi Christians are also living in terror in a far more serene place: Stockholm.
Swedish immigration officials have been deporting Iraqi refugees to Baghdad on flights about every three weeks, declaring that some of them have no legitimate claim to political asylum in Sweden. That includes Iraqi Christians — a category that does not automatically imply a risk of persecution, according to Swedish guidelines. Of the 80,000 or so Iraqi refugees in Sweden, about 6,000 of them are Christian, according to estimates by the Syriac Orthodox Church in Stockhold. That Swedish interpretation of the main criterion for refugee status under U.N. treaties has spread widespread panic among refugees. “There are hundreds of Iraqis here who are not legal who have simply disappeared,” says an Iraqi engineer in Stockholm, a Catholic, who fled Baghdad in 2004 with his family after Islamic militants ordered them to leave their home, or be killed. “The refugees are hiding in churches or basements, working illegal jobs, trying to survive, transferring from place to place.”
Sweden is not alone in deporting Iraqis. Under agreements signed with Iraq’s government, Britain, Norway and Denmark have also sent back hundreds of Iraqis who fled during the most violent years of the war. Alarmed at the deportations, U.N. refugee officials warned last September that many of the returned Iraqis could face grave dangers back home, or place huge burdens on Iraq’s neighbors, were millions of Iraqi refugees have also fled. “Serious risks, including indiscriminate threats to life, physical integrity or freedom…. are valid reasons for international protection,” the U.N. refugee spokesman Adrian Edwards told reporters last September.
The European Court for Human Rights in Strasbourg agrees. Last month it sent E.U. governments a letter urging them to suspend the deportation of Iraqis, because of mounting violence in their native land. The Netherlands immediately halted the deportations, while Britain has said it would not force Iraqis to leave, if they petition the European court.
Sweden, on the other hand, appears to have assumed the toughest attitude. […]
Sweden now demands that, in order to be granted permanent residency, each family must prove it faces real risks if sent back to Iraq. Since many fled without documents, finding evidence of personal threats has grown immensely complicated. And many whom Sweden has deported in recent months have felt far too scared to remain back in Iraq. “Most of the Christians who are deported are fleeing again to neighboring countries like Syria and Jordan after they land in Baghdad,” says Nuri Kino, a freelance journalist in Stockholm, who has spent months tracking Iraqi refugees. Kino says that after examining the files of many Iraqi refugees, he is convinced that Swedish officials have deported some who face real threats in Iraq. “We have gone through hundreds of asylum rejections with lawyers,” he says, “and we have seen fatal mistakes being made.”