(AINA) -- Iraqi asylum seekers in Syria have been tricked into believing that they can bribe their way to a better place in line in the queue to the Swedish embassy. The first time I came across these falsifications, was when Marie-Jeanette Löfgren and I produced two documentaries for the program Kaliber on SR (the Swedish state owned radio station). Already on the second day after we landed in Syria, September 2007, I asked Chatarina Kipp, the Swedish ambassador in Syrian's capital city Damascus, if she had heard of the bribes. She dismissed it as rumour and hearsay. Yet a translator who has the pavement outside of the Swedish embassy as his office, claimed that it is true and that I only needed to sit with him for an hour before some of the Iraqis, who were extremely frustrated, would tell me about the bribes.
It took only five minutes before two Iraqi women came forward to Abu Ahmad, the translator, to get help filling in the Swedish migration papers. Abu Ahmad chatted with the women while, in the burning sun, he filled in the documents on his old typewriter. "A man came to me and asked what my business was with the Swedish embassy. I said that I wanted to book an appointment but that they had a long queue. He said I shouldn't be worried because he could make sure that I could jump the queue for just a few hundred dollars", explained one of the women to Abu Ahmad so that I heard it.
When I returned home I kept in touch with Abu Ahmad. I called him twice a week to get an idea how the bribery situation had developed. Amongst other information he explained that four people were involved. Abu Akram, who was the chauffeur and visa validator for the embassy, a cousin of him who worked in the visa office and yet another cousin called Riyad, owner of translation office Tabbaa Trading, on the other side of the street from the Swedish Embassy. Abu Ahmad also explained that the boss, he that pulled all the strings, was not related to the others. He is supposedly called Diaa and is Iraqi, whereas the other three are Palestinians.
With this information as a start, I travelled around Sweden. I visited social clubs and refugee hideouts to discover if there were Iraqis in Sweden that knew of the bribe situation. It was shown to be a public secret, many were aware of the falsifications . But to get nearer to the, case, much much nearer, I decided to meet a middleman in Sweden, someone who was paid so that one of the Iraqis family members can jump the queue in Syria.
I took the train to Jönköping, where I and one of the Iraqi asylum seekers planned to have a coffee with one of Diaas' middlemen. On the train I tested my hidden tape recorder, which worked perfectly. I called the refugee who explained that they sat in the corner of the train station's café. On the way to them the recorder jammed. It stopped working. I called one of Kaliber's producers, panicked. We agreed that I should record the conversation through my mobile, which should be on during the whole meeting with the middleman.
I fed them a story that I had recently married an Iraqi and wanted her to move faster up the queue. I didn't want to wait nine months for the love of my life to move to Sweden. He told me about Diaa, about Tabbaa Trading and about a person from the embassy that worked for them. I would pay around $800, or rather my wife would pay Diaa in Damascus. The middleman gave me a number to another middleman, a person it was claimed was Diaas brother in the Stockholm area.
We received help from an Iraqi to ring the brother.
"With God's help you'll get help", he said when we asked if my wife could jump the queue.
In December there were many Iraqi asylum seekers who explained to the Swedish embassy in Syria that they were forced to pay large sums of money but had not been successful in their attempts to jump the queue.
"We noticed that there were many Iraqis that came to us who had no appointment but claimed they had. They had paid money to a company, Tabbaa Trading", said Leif Ericsson at the embassy when I called him today.
Ericsson also said that he didn't know anyone employed by the embassy who could be involved -- two Iraqis claim that they have informed him about that.
"Abu Akram is one of those who left when his involvement in the bribes was exposed", claimed an Iraqi who is in Södertälje.
"It isn't true that he left because of that but due to health reasons. We have a doctor's certificate that states he couldn't perform his work duties", explained Ericsson in defence of Abu Akram.
"But are you not aware that he could be a relative of Riyad at Tabbaa-trading and one of your employees in the visa office", I asked.
"We are not aware of any family links", answered Ericsson.
In December the Swedish embassy reported their suspicions of falsifications to the Syrian Foreign Office, which has since been passed over to the Syrian authorities responsible.
I have called Iraqis in Sweden to try to find out what they knew about arrests.
"They arrested four people but all have been released and Diaa is actually on his way to Sweden", said one with insider knowledge on the Tabaa-trading company.
One can ask how this could happen. A corrupt Iraqi in Syria who might have gained millions of dollars through deceiving Iraqis that they can jump the queue to a meeting with the Swedish embassy.
"Basically the situation is that when there are long queues then unfortunately there is a market, and it is a real shame that there are people out there that will use other people in this way. A good step towards dealing with this is that we have reduced the waiting time to around six months through people contacting other Swedish embassies in the region", Ericsson was happy to inform.
From the embassys Internetsight:
2007-12-10 Important information!
The Embassy of Sweden will henceforth not accept documents handed in to the embassy by Tabbaa Trading.
It has come to the attention of the Embassy of Sweden that a company by the name of Tabbaa Trading (their office is in the basement of the school Daouhat Al Hurryah which is located next to the Swedish Embassy) has been involved in activities concerning "facilitation" for residence permits to Sweden that are not up to standard. Some individuals have apparently paid money to persons in the office to try to bypass the queuing system of the Embassy of Sweden.
The Embassy of Sweden will therefore as of 9 December 2007 not accept appointments by e-mail, request for earlier appointment, application for residence permit or visa or any other assorted documents prepared by Tabbaa Trading.
E-mails and documents prepared by Tabbaa Trading and handed to the Swedish Embassy will be refused.
The Embassy of Sweden therefore strongly urges applicants for residence permit or visa who are in need of help in filling in applications or to e-mail the Embassy for an appointment to use another service.
First Secretary / Migration Attaché
Embassy of Sweden
By Nuri Kino
Nuri Kino is a journalist in Sweden specializing in investigative journalism, and is one of the most highly awarded journalists in Europe (CV). He is an Assyrian from Turkey. His documentary, Assyriska: a National team without a Nation, was awarded The Golden Palm at the 2006 Beverly Hills Film festival.