AINA Editorial
We Cannot Protect Assyrians and Other Minorities: Iraqi Official
By Nuri Kino
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Stockholm (AINA) -- In a secret meeting in Stockholm by an Iraqi delegation with members of the Swedish government, the Iraqi delegation called on Sweden to stop deporting to Iraq refugees whose applications were rejected for asylum. "We cannot receive Iraqi refugees deported forcibly from Sweden because we cannot protect them and their lives will be at risk if they are returned to Iraq," said an Iraqi diplomat.

The Iraqi delegation, which included representatives from a number of ministries, said in their meeting with Swedish officials the Iraqi government is giving priority to stopping emigration and working to increase security, but it needs more time to build its security forces. The Iraqi delegation asked Swedish officials to stop the forcible deportation of Iraqis for this interim period.

The Swedish authorities are very quiet about the Iraqi delegation's mission in Sweden. Quoting from an email by a Swedish official, HÃ¥kan Gestrin, the visit of the Iraqis to the Migration Board was not unusual. He writes that the Migration Board is often visited by delegations from other countries in order to get answers concerning legislative laws. But Gestrin refuses to answer questions about the meeting, what the Iraqi delegation discussed in the meeting are according to him issues regulated by foreign affairs privacy.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) strongly criticized Sweden last week for forcibly deporting people to Iraq. On December 15, in the same week when the meeting between the Iraqi delegation and the Swedish government took place, twenty Iraqis were forcibly deported to Iraq on a chartered Swedish aircraft; five of them were Christian Assyrians. This act was widely criticized by many organizations, who have pointed to the extremely volatile security situation in Iraq.

On the same date a hearing was held in the Swedish Parliament under the title "Iraq outside the scope of the perspective of asylum." The questions raised during the hearing were focused on the seriousness of the situation in Iraq and its danger to minority groups in Iraq, and how the Swedish Migration Board and other immigrations services assesses Iraqi refugees issues and their need for protection, as well as how the Swedish Board deals with the information given in the country.

The hearing was attended by Carolyn Ennis, from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Baghdad, the former Iraqi Human Rights and Immigration Minister Pascale Warda, representing the Hammurabi Human Rights group, and Chris Chapman from the Minority Rights Group, a NGO based in London. The attendees issued the same message: Iraqi refugees in general and Assyrians and other minorities in particular cannot be send back to Iraq because they cannot be safeguarded. There is no protection for them. Iraq needs more time.

The Swedish Migration Board refused to disclose information about the meeting with the Iraqi delegation and did not make any official documents available. After an appeal they provided some documents but most of the information was heavily redacted to protect "foreign affairs secret information." In one of the documents the office of secret information forgot to redact a line stating that the Iraqi delegation had a meeting with UNCHR's Stockholm office.

At the UNCR they had no problem answering questions about the meeting.

"The Iraqi delegation was clear about their mission; they were in Stockholm to ask the Swedish government to stop forcibly sending back Iraqis," said Hanna Mathisen of UNHCR. "The Iraqi government cannot at this time protect anyone that is threatened. Iraq needs more time, and priority number one now is to stop more emigration, so they asked Sweden to delay all deportations until security and safety returns to Iraq."

Documents provided by the Swedish Board of Migration.

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