• Sweden edition
 

The path to Swedish asylum: A smuggler speaks

Published: 19 Mar 2008 16:00 GMT+01:00
Updated: 19 Mar 2008 16:00 GMT+01:00

Rami Abdelrahman travels to Jordan and tracks down the first link in the chain of an underground operation involved in the smuggling of Iraqi refugees to Sweden.

“Immigration services, immigration services,” Jabber calls to Iraqis walking towards the Swedish Embassy in Amman. His office stationery consists of a deck of cheap yellow business cards with a mobile number printed in black. His “company” is called International Immigration Services, or so says the card.

Jabber has stationed himself on the low wall of The Salahuddin Mosque in front of the embassy. He makes petty cash by selling postage stamps, filling out applications and translating Arabic texts into English.

But occasionally Jabber has some big money rolling in, when he arranges for those who fail to get a Swedish visa to fly to the Scandinavian country through a sophisticated smuggling network.

“Business has been regressing in the last year or so,” he tells The Local during an interview at a café in Jabal Al Weibdeh, one of Amman’s seven main hills and “home” to thousands of Iraqi refugees.

Jordan has more than 400,000 Iraqi refugees, according to the latest official study carried out by the Jordanian government in conjunction with Fafo, a Norwegian agency experienced in the compilation of immigration statistics. According to their report, 40 percent of these refugees would like to move to a third country.

Jabber, a middle-aged Jordanian of Palestinian origin, has been in business since the 1980s. He says the highlight of his career was between 2004 and 2006, when he helped more than 80 Iraqis into Europe, each yielding more than $3,000 in revenue.

“We had more routes open for us then and more people interested in fleeing to Europe. We never worked with arranging fake passports, but helped Iraqi passport holders to get to Greece or Italy with their real identification documents,” says Jabber, his words emerging through cigarette smoke and the scent of Turkish coffee.

“Right now there are a few channels left for us to send people into Europe. One is the Bab Al Hawa border point between Syria and Turkey. To get through that point, one has to travel to Syria to meet with two people who are available in the Sayeda Zainab square in central Damascus.

“They run the show in Syria. They ask for about $6,000 for their services since they bribe policemen at border control points in Syria, Turkey, and Greece,” he says.

Jabber says his costs have soared over the past year since Jordan and Syria began tightening their borders with Iraq and requiring Iraqis to acquire visas before allowing them through. The constant exchange of fire between Kurdish rebels (PKK) in the north of Iraq and Turkish forces also made it impossible to smuggle people across that border.

However, those who manage to come into contact with Jabber are offered a “simple plan”.

He asks for cash in advance, before sending different sums to various parts of the network. Once he gets the all-clear, he calls the person to be smuggled and gives them directions to the pick-up location.

“They are driven all the way to Turkey, and from there taken by boat to Greece. In Greece, they have to wait for several days until Albanian boats come in to take them across the sea to Italy.

“On Italian shores they are driven to Germany by car, and then by trucks to Scandinavia.”

He said the trip usually takes up to eight months, by land and sea, if there are no unexpected hurdles.

But the process is not as simple as it sounds, says Ali Abdellahi, a Kurdish-Swede who was smuggled to Sweden via a similar route in the mid-1990s.

Abdellahi was imprisoned with little food by the smugglers in Greece, and had to swim half way to the Italian coast where he was picked up by the local police and taken into a refugee camp (where he was eventually smuggled out by a member of another smuggling network).

But it was worth the risk, says Abdellahi, who gained Swedish citizenship 6 months after his arrival in Enköping, and now has a permanent job in one of Stockholm’s biggest media production companies.

For a “little extra” cost, however, Jabber can save refugees the hassle of life-threatening risks and fly them on first class tickets to Scandinavia.

“We have to send them first to Bangkok or Singapore or other Asian airports to deflect attention.

“They have to pay full price, though. One person refused to pay for the complete package, and he ended up in India instead of Norway,” says Jabber.

In the last two years, police at all European airports have begun asking to see the passports of passengers arriving from the Middle East before they even leave the plane. This is a security measure aimed at stopping those without passports from entering European territory, according to Europol.

Jabber stresses to refugees that they must either rip up or throw away their passports after boarding the plane for their final destination.

“One person kept his passport, and was sent back by the Norwegian police to Bangkok,” he says.

Across the street from Jabber’s office, the Swedish Ambassador in Amman, Tommy Arwitz, says the Swedish authorities are well aware of these techniques and regularly send police to European and Middle Eastern border checkpoints and airports to update airline companies and local authorities on smuggling techniques.

Recent media reports estimate that around 40,000 people made their way into Sweden illegally during 2007. Arwitz says that European laws do not allow European embassies to receive asylum applications on their premises. However, “we have a lot of competence in identifying false passports.”

Jabber currently operates alone in Jordan. Local anti-corruption authorities have recently detained at least two other smugglers. “They were fraudsters,” says Jabber.

Rami Abdelrahman (news@thelocal.se)

Don't miss...X
Left Right
Today's headlines
Florida 'mystery knight' dies in Sweden
Michael Boatwright (R) and Medieval knight re-enactors.

Florida 'mystery knight' dies in Sweden

The "motel mystery" American who baffled US authorities by only speaking Swedish when he woke up from a coma last year has passed away, Swedish media reported on Wednesday. READ () »

Swedes open coffin of 850-year-old king
Photo: Bertil Ericson/TT

Swedes open coffin of 850-year-old king

UPDATED: Scientists pried open the 850-year-old casket of King Erik the Holy on Wednesday, hoping to find out more about the king, his crown, and his eating habits. READ () »

TeliaSonera announces first-quarter profit drop
TeliaSonera CEO Johan Dennelind. File photo: TT

TeliaSonera announces first-quarter profit drop

Stockholm-listed telecom operator TeliaSonera on Wednesday said profits had fallen in the first quarter, but hoped offering customers more data solutions in the future would turn things around. READ () »

'Imperfect EU better than revolting nationalism'
Fredrik Reinfeldt. File photo: TT

'Imperfect EU better than revolting nationalism'

Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt on Wednesday urged young voters to head to the European parliamentary polls on May 25th "to cure the European disease of nationalism". READ () »

Ericsson quarterly profit defies sluggish sales
Ericsson CEO Hans Vestberg at the first quarter press conference. Photo: TT

Ericsson quarterly profit defies sluggish sales

Swedish telecom giant Ericsson on Wednesday announced a drop in sales but posted a sharp rise in first-quarter profit, which nonetheless fell shy of analyst predictions. READ () »

Fatal Norrköping brawl
Four brothers held as cops fear brawl reprisals
Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Four brothers held as cops fear brawl reprisals

Swedish police fear that several people involved in a brawl in eastern Sweden on Monday night may be seeking revenge after two brothers were shot dead. READ () »

Sponsored Article
Beautiful pearls of southeast Sweden
The town of Västervik.

Beautiful pearls of southeast Sweden

Ask a Swede, and they are likely to say that their favourite holiday spot is in the southeast of Sweden. Eastern Småland and Öland offer a smörgåsbord of all the things dearest to the Swedes - from the beloved children's book author Astrid Lindgren to deep forests, long sandy beaches, perfect spots for that all-important 'fika', and a surprising amount of space, peace and quiet. READ () »

Weekend weather to bring summer warmth
Swedes enjoy hot dogs and cherry blossoms in Stockholm's Kungsträdgården. Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

Weekend weather to bring summer warmth

The sun is set to stick around and temperatures could climb into the twenties over the weekend, Swedish meteorologists said on Wednesday READ () »

'Day-care rapist' admits molesting eight kids

'Day-care rapist' admits molesting eight kids

A 21-year-old man confessed on Wednesday to sex crimes against eight children at a day care where he was working as an intern. READ () »

Swedish cops nab man for having big muscles
An unrelated bodybuilder. File photo: Ann Törnkvist

Swedish cops nab man for having big muscles

Police in Sweden's south who hauled a muscular man in for steroid testing have had their knuckles rapped, after it was ruled that big biceps cannot be grounds for narcotics suspicions. READ () »

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
TT
Gallery
Inside the 850-year-old king's coffin
Features
Sponsored: South-eastern Sweden offers Öland beaches and more
Gallery
Swedish underwear shop puts staff in front of the camera
Gallery
IN PICTURES: The Local's Property of the Week - Täby
Sponsored: India+Sweden Week - India Unlimited
Features
Sponsored: India+Sweden Week - A film, food, and finance feast
National
University applications rocket to record high
finest.se
Gallery
People-watching April 18-20
TT
Society
Kids in Victorian garb mark Swedish Easter
Shutterstock
National
Swedish MP ordered chemtrail probe
Society
Swedish supermarket Ica pulls contested Easter commercial off air
Kungahuset
Society
Swedish royals set baptism date for princess
finest.se
Gallery
People-watching April 16
Advertisement:
Politics
Who's the prime minister's heir?
Alfie Atkins
Society
Are children's books the key to families integrating in Sweden?
National
'Sweden Dem protests cater to party's martyr image'
National
'Swedish research grants were fantastic, but now it's like Australia'
Society
Only in Sweden: The ten problems you'd never encounter elsewhere
National
Swedes stopped to take my picture, but didn't look me in the eyes
Business & Money
A swipe of the hand replaced cash and cards in Lund
YouTube
Features
Video: Oliver Gee finds out how to embrace The Swedish Hug
TT
National
Abba duo hints at reunion
Private
National
Flash mobs hug it out across Sweden
Finest.se
Gallery
People-watching April 11-13
Stockholm School of Economics
Sponsored Article
Why a bachelor's degree is no longer enough
Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Blog Update: The Diplomatic Dispatch

28 October 15:16

The Green Growth Group Summit »

"Today on the 28 October in Brussels, a large group of key EU Ministers and business people, including UK Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Edward Davey, and Swedish Environment Minister Lena Ek, will meet to discuss green growth. They all have a stake in resolving a challenge which, although it is crucial..." READ »

719
jobs available
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions is an innovative business company which provides valuable assistance with the Swedish Authorities, Swedish language practice and general communications. Call 073-100 47 81 or visit:
www.swedishdowntown.com