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Sweden defends deporting 26 Iraqi asylum-seekers

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Sweden plans to deport Iraqi refugees
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The U.N. refugee agency had urged European countries not to deport Iraqi asylum-seekers
  • Sweden deported 26 this week
  • Sweden says it's been the top asylum-seeking country for Iraqis in much of Europe
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(CNN) -- Sweden is defending its decision to deport 26 Iraqi asylum-seekers.

The United Nations had urged European nations not to send Iraqi asylum-seekers back to Iraq, but Sweden deported 26 this week.

Sweden's Minister for Migration and Asylum Policy, Tobias Billstrom, defended the decision by pointing to a recent decision of the European Court of Human Rights, which he said decided that there is no need to stop the return of Iraqis who had unsuccessfully sought asylum in Sweden.

That decision supported a Swedish immigration court's ruling "that you have to show an individual threat directed towards you as an individual asylum seeker from Iraq," Billstrom said Thursday.

"We are returning only the Iraqis who have failed to meet the asylum requirements," he said. "Sweden has been the number one asylum seeking country for Iraqis in the European Union."

Officials with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said they met the 26 deportees after they arrived at Baghdad's airport on Wednesday. The officials said they were able to speak with 19 of them.

Several of the men are from some of what UNHCR describes as Iraq's volatile provinces -- Baghdad, Diyala, Salaheddin, Nineveh and Kirkuk. The refugee agency has appealed to countries not to deport asylum-seekers from those areas.

"Our position reflects the volatile security situation and the still high level of prevailing violence, security incidents and human rights violations taking place in these parts of Iraq," UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said Tuesday.

The agency said of the 19 men officials spoke with, 14 were from Iraq's two most dangerous cities, Baghdad and Mosul.

Three of those from Baghdad are Christians, the UNHCR said Thursday.

"We understand that a number of those scheduled for return belong to religious and ethnic groups targeted by violence in Iraq," Fleming said Tuesday. "They, and others slated for return, appear to have profiles that would warrant protection under the 1951 Refugee Convention or the European Union's Qualification Directive."

However, UNHCR allowed, Sweden has the right under its law to refuse asylum through its legal procedures. The decision to deport the Christians, it said, may have been made prior to renewed attacks against Christians seen since October in Iraq.

The Swedish deportations are the latest by European countries. Last year, western European countries including the United Kingdom and Sweden deported more than 400 Iraqis, according to the agency.

Many of the Iraqi asylum-seekers in Europe are Kurds, who flee for economic reasons, the UNHCR said, and those deported return to the relatively secure Kurdish region in northern Iraq.

However, many of those who are sent back try to flee again, the UNHCR said Thursday.

For example, the agency said last month a Christian man deported from Sweden fled there again after he narrowly escaped the bloody attack on the Baghdad church that left more than 50 Christians dead and began a renewed campaign of violence against Christians. Sweden agreed to readmit him when he returned, she said.

Although the level of violence has decreased significantly in the past few years, Iraq is still an extremely unpredictable and dangerous country. After a lull of more than two months in high-profile suicide attacks, for instance, five suicide bombings since Monday have left more than 80 people dead. Assassinations and smaller-scale bombings are an almost-daily occurrence.

CNN's Jomana Karadsheh and Eileen Hsieh contributed to this report

 
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