Iraqi exodus spills into Europe, with Sweden as hotspot




 
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Iraqi exodus spills into Europe, with Sweden as hotspot
 
October 24th, 2006  
Team Infidel
 
 

Topic: Iraqi exodus spills into Europe, with Sweden as hotspot


Iraqi exodus spills into Europe, with Sweden as hotspot
Media: The Associated Press
Byline: By KARL RITTER
Date: 24 October 2006


STOCKHOLM, Sweden_Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have fled the unrelenting
violence and chaos in their homeland since the U.S. invasion in 2003.

The exiles mostly poured into neighboring countries. But a growing tide of
Iraqis is seeking shelter and a new start in Europe, where Sweden is
emerging as the destination of choice due to relatively lax immigration
laws, according to immigration officials and official statistics.

The number of Iraqis applying for asylum in the 25 countries of the European
Union rose by nearly 50 percent to 7,300 in the first six months of the
year, bucking a downward trend in the total number of asylum-seekers, U.N.
statistics show.

One-third of them came to Sweden, a country of 9 million people including
more than 70,000 Iraqi immigrants which has so far resisted clampdowns on
immigration seen elsewhere in the EU.

The latest immigration figures in Sweden show the surge has intensified in
recent months. By Oct. 8, nearly 5,000 Iraqis had sought asylum in the
Scandinavian country _ already more than double last year's number.

The immigration authority was forced to set up a special unit last month to
deal with the massive case load.

"We're up to 1,000 per month. That's quite a remarkable figure," said Magnus
Ryden, a former case worker at Sweden's Migration Board. "I think our staff
is experiencing a certain overload."

An additional 3,000 Iraqis this year have applied for residence permits to
be reunited with a spouse or parents already living in Sweden.

Experts attributed the surge to changes in Swedish immigration law that has
made it easier for Iraqis to gain residence permits, especially those from
the most violent areas such as Baghdad and southern Iraq. Meanwhile, other
countries "are becoming increasingly restrictive" said Migration Board
expert Christer Isaksson, noting Denmark and Britain as examples.

"They look differently at Iraqis' need for protection," he said.

Britain has seen a steady drop in asylum-seekers in recent years, as the
government has tightened immigration laws and stepped up border controls.
Along with Poland it is also the only EU country to have forcibly returned
Iraqis whose asylum applications were rejected, according to the European
Council on Refugees and Exiles.

Denmark, too, has seen a sharp drop in refugees after restricting its asylum
laws in 2002. Before the change, some 90 percent of Iraqis who sought asylum
were granted shelter in Denmark. The number was down to 7 percent last year.

"As a general rule, Denmark doesn't consider civil war or the general unrest
as a reason to get asylum here," said Niels Bak of the Danish Immigration
Service.

Despite the growing number of Iraqi refugees arriving in Europe, the
overwhelming majority of those who have fled the country have ended up in
the Middle East. Some 890,000 Iraqis have moved to Jordan, Iran and Syria
since 2003, Iraq's Immigration Minister Abdul-Samad Sultan said two weeks
ago.

An additional 300,000 Iraqis have been displaced within the country, of
which half fled their homes after the February bombing of a Shiite shrine in
the city of Samarra that sparked waves of violence, he said.

Those displaced mostly moved in with their own sectarian communities _
Shiites fleeing mainly Sunni or mixed areas to Shiite-dominated ones, and
vice versa _ exacerbating the segregation of the country of some 30 million.

Many who venture to Europe turn to smugglers who provide them with fake
passports and travel documents for fees of about US$10,000, several Iraqis
who made the journey said.

Some use Eastern European countries as transit points, while others seek to
board direct flights to Western European countries from Amman, Damascus or
Istanbul, they said.

After Sweden, the Netherlands and Germany were the most popular destinations
for Iraqi migrants this year, but both have adopted stricter policies that
make it harder to get staying permits.

Sweden, however, has gone the other way. Last year, Parliament decided to
give a second chance to asylum-seekers who were hiding in the country after
their applications were rejected. Of the 30,000 people who reapplied, about
60 percent were approved, including 5,300 Iraqis.

In addition, the immigration law was changed this year to widen the
definition of people considered in need of protection. Now, the general
turmoil in their home country is considered reason enough to grant them
protection.

Intelligence officials in Sweden said they are keeping an eye on
asylum-seekers to spot any terrorists trying to infiltrate Europe.

"We have a very cooperation with the Migration Board," said Anders Thornberg
of Sweden's security police, SAPO. "We are monitoring this and let them know
what we are looking for."
 


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