(AINA) -- On the Run Again is a series of reports broadcast on national Swedish radio in the fall of 2009, uncovering Sweden's ongoing and unreported mass expulsion of Christians and other vulnerable non-Muslim Iraqi refugees to Iraq.
Despite Sweden's reputation as one of the most generous countries in the world in accepting Iraqi refugees, less than half of the Iraqi asylum-seekers already in the country have actually been allowed to stay. The others, more than 10,000, many of them Christians or from other religious minorities, are forced back to a country where religious persecution and ethnic and religious cleansing is well documented (report).
The reports cover the investigation of the covert and surprising agreement between Sweden and Iraq on the massive return of Iraqis, the confusing asylum court decisions, the devastating lack of knowledge in Sweden about religious cleansing in Iraq, and the very desperate situation for the expelled -- whether in hiding in Iraq or trying to get out, already on the run in the neighboring countries, or still in Sweden, fearing to be returned, voluntarily or forcefully. Many go into hiding. The reports uncover the real face of Swedish generosity to Iraqi refugees, the unfair court orders and the desperation of the victims of the Iraqi war, once again on the run from their country. The reports have now forced Sweden to change it's asylum policy towards religious minorities from Iraq.
Since the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, more than 2 million Iraqis have fled the country. Most of them are still refugees in neighboring countries. Until 2008 very few made it to the U.S, but many were welcomed by Sweden. In fact, it became known as one of the most generous countries in the world in accepting refugees from this conflict.
In April 2008, the mayor of a small Swedish town spoke in the United States Congress in Washington, describing how Södertälje alone, with it's 85,000 inhabitants, received more Iraqi refugees than the United States and Canada combined (AINA 4-21-2008, 4-8-2008). The mayor asked the U.S. to take a greater responsibility for the refugees and said "We must find a model for an equal and more responsible reception."
But the truth was that Swedish hospitality was beginning to diminish. Less than half of the asylum seekers were accepted from 2003 to 2008, and the Swedish Migration Court of Appeals decided in 2007 there was no "internal armed conflict" in Iraq. Thus, even less Iraqi refugees were granted asylum, and those already rejected could now be forcibly returned to Iraq. The Swedish government declared 2009 as the first "Year of Return" for the Iraqis.
The refugees and their lawyers claimed that the asylum rejections were illegal. Rumors had it that Sweden wanted to send signals to other refugees that there was no use to come anymore. Officials denied asylum seekers residence permits and expelled them at an unprecedented rate, almost no matter their asylum reasons. The Media adopted the Swedish government's language and gave reports about the safer situation in Iraq and called the expulsions "voluntary returns."
Freelance reporter Nuri Kino had followed the consequences of the war in Iraq since 2003, and was in touch with refugees in Sweden whom he had already met in camps in Syria and Jordan. He studied several asylum cases where the lawyers claimed the applicants had the right to protection according to the law. The process in the Swedish Migration Board and Migration Courts seemed far from legally sound or fair. In one case a Christian Assyrian who had worked as an interpreter for the Americans was refused asylum even though he, according to international experts, risked being killed if returned to Iraq. At the same time his sister received asylum because her brother worked for the Americans. Nuri Kino decided to collect as many cases as possible and investigate them.
Nuri Kino and Christopher Holmbäck traveled to Gothenburg and Södertälje and met more than 100 Iraqis who wanted to give testimony on their sufferings in the new and harsh asylum process. The refugees signed agreements to make the reporters able to ask the migration authorities for their confidential files. The refugees shared similar stories of persecution in Iraq and all feared being killed if being forcibly returned to Iraq. Their stories were confirmed by Iraqi human rights organizations.
The extensive research took three months and during the summer Susan Ritzén and Nuri Kino began to make a series of reports for Ekot, the news department the Swedish Public Radio. Their reports revealed that vulnerable and systematically persecuted minorities like Christians were among those being expelled en masse from Sweden and forced to return to Baghdad. The reporters were in touch with more than 200 Iraqis at all stages of the process, from the ones waiting for an asylum decision or already in custody waiting to be forcibly returned, to those in hiding or already returned to Iraq. The investigation showed that the returnees, whether by force or "voluntarily," all attempted to flee from Iraq again.
Kino and Ritzén interviewed different authorities and politicians in Sweden, the U.K., Brussels, the United States and Iraq, as well as international human rights experts, and they compared the Swedish Migration Board's country analyses with international information. The devastating problems in Iraq with religious violence and ethnic cleansing were omitted or understated in the Swedish migration board and the courts. Meanwhile more and more refugees called the reporters to ask for help -- from Iraq, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, as well as from all over Sweden.
Despite the reports the Swedish government still claimed the situation had improved in Iraq and that most of the Iraqis returned voluntarily. Susan Ritzén and Nuri Kino decided to examine the bilateral agreement with Iraq that made the expulsions possible. The agreement stipulated that Iraq would receive refugees and provide for their security. The reporters made a rare interview with the Iraqi Migration minister who said that it was not currently possible to grant security for returnees, and that he was not aware of any cases where Sweden forced anyone to return (AINA 8-28-2009). He said that Iraq was only prepared to accept voluntary returnees, not anyone returned by force. He claimed that Sweden must have misunderstood the bilateral agreement, but the Swedish government still claimed that the agreement also regulated forced returns.
The expulsions continued during the autumn of 2009 when Nuri Kino and Tove Svenonius made more news reports for Swedish Radio on the situation for Iraqi refugees still in Sweden. As more and more Iraqis were refused asylum more went into hiding. The number of refugees "disappearing," becoming refugees without documents, increased each day. The number of people that were on the run again --- now in Sweden --- was rising.
Meanwhile, in Iraq the situation deteriorated for the religious minorities, especially the Christians. It became increasingly difficult to leave Iraq and to enter Europe, but rumors told of a new way of fleeing. Nuri Kino and Tove Svenonius revealed that Swedish residence permits had been stolen and were sold on the black market. The stickers, inserted into passports, where used to get Iraqi refugees into Europe.
The reports also included an investigation of 9 Iraqi asylum cases decided by the same court on the same day. Despite similar reasons for protection the decisions varied -- it was impossible to understand why one person got asylum and the next didn't. The cases got much attention and are now being examined by several law schools in Sweden.
At the end of the year, the Swedish Migration Board announced it was working out new guidelines to make it easier for thousands of Iraqis from vulnerable minorities in Iraq to be able to stay in Sweden. That, however, remains to be investigated.
The reports on the expulsions and the situation for the minorities received great interest, and have had several consequences. Members of the Swedish Parliament have questioned the Minister of Migration and he has been notified to the parliamentary constitutional committee for not telling the truth about the expulsions and the agreement with Iraq. The reports have also been discussed in parliaments in other European countries, where many were surprised when hearing about the Swedish expulsions. In Iraq, two conferences on the matter have been held; the reporters were invited to one of them. Nuri Kino has also has spoken in the Swedish Parliament on two occasions and at a seminar in Toronto along with a Canadian minister. The reports have led Minority Rights Group in London to change facts in an important refugee report and the story has also been followed up by media in Iraq, U.S. and Sweden.
Altogether, these reports, with a unique amount of witnesses and many international experts seldom heard in Swedish media, revealed the grim truth of Sweden's supposed generosity towards Iraqi refugees and their desperate situation.
More on Iraqi Refugees in Sweden:
Swedish Migration Board to Review Iraqi Asylum Cases
Sweden May Have Illegally Deported Iraqi Refugees
Assyrian Refugees Expelled From Sweden -- Fleeing Again
Assyrian Refugees in Sweden Caught in Political Struggle
Swedish Asylum Case Highlights Dangers for Iraq's Assyrians