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US tourist detained in Sweden as asylum seeker

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19:15 CEST+02:00
An American woman who came to Sweden on vacation has ended up in a detention centre, classed as an asylum seeker against her will.

"I don't want to live here; I don't want to work here," she told The Local.

Ganna Dharmarajah, from Berkeley, California, came to Sweden in early April as a tourist under the visa waiver scheme, which permits US citizens to stay in Sweden for three months.

She was planning to leave Sweden in June, but since last month she has been registered by Swedish authorities as an asylum seeker.

Earlier this week, she was arrested and locked in a detention centre in Gävle.

Exactly why she became registered as an asylum seeker is unclear, but she maintains that she herself never sought refuge in Sweden. Her lawyer says she suspects the whole incident could be due to translation errors.

The episode started when she applied for an emergency loan via the US Embassy. When informed that it might take some time for a loan to be arranged, she says she was referred to Swedish social services. There, she was informed she was not entitled to Swedish state assistance.

Dharmarajah says she was collected from the social services office by police officers.

"The police took me to the police station, allowed me to call some of my friends in the US, and then took me to a refugee camp in Märsta," she tells The Local.

The police officers then took Dharmarajah's passport.

"They explained to me that I was an asylum case, and that asylum cases can't keep their passports."

"It's crazy," she says. "I never wanted asylum in this country. I don't want to live here; I don't want to work here."

Dharmarajah initially remained free to come and go from the asylum centre, and after two days she left to visit a friend in Umeå. She says she would have liked to leave the country, but could not, as police refused to return her passport. Meanwhile, the US citizen contacted the US embassy and hired a Swedish lawyer to get her situation sorted out.

On Monday police arrested Dharmarajah on the orders of the Swedish Board of Migration, and took her to the asylum detention centre in Gävle.

Migration officials were giving few details of the case on Wednesday, saying only that Dharmarajah had applied to remain in Sweden and that her application had been refused.

"From June 1st we have had a request in to the police to make her leave Sweden," a spokeswoman told The Local. Ironically, such a process is likely to take some time, but Dharmarajah herself says if she was set free she would be on a plane to Japan on Saturday.

Dharmarajah's lawyer, Maria Guzman, received papers from the Swedish Board of Migration on Wednesday. She says that her client's version of events and those given by the board are entirely different.

"She says she only wanted to be in Sweden as a tourist; the Migration Board's understanding is that she has sought asylum."

"I have no idea why their versions differ to such a great extent. It could possibly be down to a translation error, and I'm now trying to contact the interpreter from her original meeting with the migration board."

Guzman says she will now try to help the American withdraw her asylum application. Meanwhile, an appeal to stop the deportation has been submitted.

The United States Embassy has also been in contact with Dharmarajah about her case, but was on Wednesday refusing to comment.

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