HAVANA TIMES, Jan. 24 (IPS) — Both the United Nations and Amnesty International have criticized Sweden for its latest expulsion of Iraqi migrants who fled their home country to seek shelter in the European nation, citing concerns that violence in Iraq continues to threaten the lives of deported migrants.
“We have interviewed several people who have been sent back previously and their message is loud and clear: It is not safe,” said Salil Shetty, the secretary general of Amnesty International.
“Sweden should stop forcibly returning these people who are at risk.”
The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, and Amnesty International (AI), have called for a suspension of deportations to Iraq, with special emphasis on the cases of individuals from ethnic or religious minority groups that have been targeted in recent attacks.
According to AI, the most recent expulsion of Iraqis from Sweden that occurred on Jan. 19 included at least 14 people from particularly dangerous provinces, including Baghdad, Kirkuk, Diyala, Salah al-Din and Ninewa.
UNHCR expressed strong concern that Sweden sent more than 20 Iraqis back to Baghdad, despite repeated warnings that conditions are unsafe in the Iraqi capital.
Swedish immigration authorities ruled in 2007 that “there is no armed conflict in Iraq” and that it was therefore acceptable to return Iraqi citizens to their home country. The ruling meant that Iraqis were no longer automatically granted asylum.
Since 2009, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, the U.K., and the Netherlands have forcibly deported hundreds of Iraqis whose asylum claims have been dismissed.
But Finland, Sweden’s neighboring country, holds the official position that there is an international armed conflict in Iraq, and has recently suspended all deportations to the country.
Tens of thousands of Iraqis have fled violence to resettle in Sweden. Official statistics show that 121,000 people born in Iraq lived in the Scandinavian country in 2009.
Melissa Fleming, a spokesperson for UNHCR, said that those targeted for repatriation had “profiles that would warrant protection” under the UN’s 1951 Refugee Convention and the European Union’s Qualifications Directive. She pointed out that a Christian Iraqi who was deported from Sweden last October was being readmitted to Sweden after he was forced to flee his country again, following another attack.
Iraqi Christians, Yazidis, Shabaks, and other minorities have frequently faced attacks from armed groups, according to Human Rights Watch.
But Mikael Ribbenvik, the Swedish Migration Board Director for Legal Affairs, says there is no reason to halt deportations to Iraq.
“Everyone who needs protection receives protection,” Ribbenvik told IPS. “We respect and act in accordance with the Geneva Conventions and we protect those who need to be protected.”
“UNHCR has not made any individual assessments. How could UNHCR claim they know better?” he asked.
Despite international criticism, Swedish migration minister Tobias Billström has refused to comment on statements made by UNCHR or AI.
“This is nothing new – these are things that Amnesty has said on several occasions,” Billstrom told the Swedish news agency TT.
“It’s important to remember that we have a system in Sweden based on the rule of law which involves authorities and courts hearing every individual case,” he added.
Groups of protesters gathered in the southwestern city of Gothenburg and in Stockholm last week, amid rising criticism of the deportations.
Police broke up a protest and approximately 70 people were detained in Gothenburg, according to Swedish authorities.
In Stockholm, police held approximately 25 people outside an asylum-seeker detention centre where 60 protesters tried to block the deportation of Iraqis who were transferred to a chartered flight at the Arlanda airport.
“We saw people waving at us from inside the detention unit,” Jonas Lundström, one of the Iraqi deportee protesters, told IPS.
“I saw none of the protesters using any kind of violence. But the police used pepper spray and batons.”
Lundstrom told IPS he was beaten by police even though he was part of a peaceful demonstration aimed at protecting individuals whose lives are at risk.