July 6, 2007 / 5:44 PM / 12 years ago

Sweden tightens rules on Iraqi asylum seekers

(Adds reactions from Iraqi refugees, background)

By Adam Cox and Sarah Edmonds

STOCKHOLM, July 6 (Reuters) - Sweden, which has more Iraqi refugees than any other country in Europe, said on Friday that Iraqis seeking asylum must prove they face personal risk in their homeland to avoid being sent back.

The ruling by the Nordic nation’s migration board on three separate asylum requests raised concern among Iraqi refugees in Sweden who fear their compatriots would be in danger if returned to war-torn Iraq.

"If they send them to Iraq, they will kill them. It’s just so dangerous," said Laith al-Haddad, 35, who lives with his extended family in Sodertalje, a town south of Stockholm with a large number of Christian Iraqi refugees.

"One hundred percent of people go out from Iraq because it is dangerous for their lives," he added.

In one of the three cases, the migration board granted asylum to an Iraqi Christian after he demonstrated he was personally in danger in his home city, the migration board said in a statement.

But it rejected the requests of two other Iraqis — one from Baghdad and another from southern Iraq — because they could not "point to any individual circumstances" to prove they were in more in peril than others in their home areas, it added.

The ruling effectively clarifies the criteria for asylum-seekers in Sweden which were previously considered on a case-by-case basis, a migration board official said.

Haddad, part of Iraq’s Christian minority, said he fled with his wife and young son to Sweden six months ago after receiving death threats over construction work by the family firm for the U.S. military.

His 63-year-old father, Jalal, was already in Sweden.



NOT ARMED CONFLICT ZONE

A Swedish court ruled earlier this year that the Nordic country does not consider Iraq to be an armed conflict zone, a status that can influence whether refugees are granted asylum.

Moslem Iraqi Zahraa Abdul Hussein, 20, an Iraqi refugee in Sweden, was unequivocal about the situation in her country.

"There were hard circumstances in Iraq," the high school student said in Swedish of why she moved here with her family four years ago. "It was war and it started to get bad, and it’s still a war there. And we live here until it gets better."

Iraqis constitute Sweden’s biggest group of asylum-seekers.

A migration board official said official figures show 8,951 Iraqis came to Sweden last year, or 45 percent of the European total, compared with 1,760 from Serbia and Montenegro.

Christian Iraqis, fearing persecution in their homeland, make up a large part of that influx.

Sweden’s appeal to Iraqis lies in its relative openness to refugees and to its more than 70,000 strong Iraqi community.

But the country has grown increasingly worried about the toll the flood of asylum-seekers is taking on its welfare system and has asked fellow European Union members to help.

"Now a lot of people are coming to Sweden. Sweden is a small country. Why are other European countries not taking people like that?" said Jalal Al-Haddad, who said he was grateful to Sweden for taking him and his family in.





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