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Bildt warns Iraq of refugee clampdown

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Bildt warns Iraq of refugee clampdown
10:36 CEST+02:00
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt was to meet Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in Baghdad on Sunday for talks expected to be dominated by Stockholm's stricter policies for Iraqi refugees.

Bildt, accompanied by Migration Minister Tobias Billström, arrived unannounced in the war-ravaged Iraqi capital on Saturday and went soon after into a meeting with his Iraqi counterpart Hoshyar Zebari.

At a press conference afterwards, Bildt warned that Sweden was tightening up its preconditions for granting asylum to Iraqis fleeing the violence ripping their country apart.

"Sweden has now between 80,000 and 120,000 Iraqis," Bildt said. "But there is no automaticity in the Swedish asylum system. It's not that everybody who seeks asylum will be granted asylum. It depends on each individual process. Every single case is tried on its merits."

Sweden receives the largest number of Iraqi refugees in Europe, and Iraqis have become the country's second-largest foreign population after Finns.

According to the Swedish immigration service, between January and July this year 10,800 Iraqis requested asylum in Sweden, up from 8,950 for the whole of 2006.

There were fewer than 3,000 asylum seekers in 2005.

In July, Sweden announced it had adopted stricter policies on whether Iraqi asylum seekers will be allowed to stay in a bid to slow the flood of arrivals.

Iraqis from the southern and central regions of the country now have to prove they have been personally threatened to be given residency, the immigration service said.

Previously, only northern Iraqis could have their asylum requests dismissed.

Immigration service head Dan Eliasson said at the time the change in policy resulted from a recent court finding that found "there is no armed conflict in Iraq, according to the definition from Swedish legislation."

"If they are not personally threatened or harassed, they cannot remain in our country," said Eliasson. He said the situation in Iraq does not warrant an automatic decision to grant someone Swedish residency.

Those not meeting the test will be asked to return to their country voluntarily with government assistance. They could be forced out if they refuse, he said.

Aside from holding talks with Maliki, Bildt was also on Sunday expected to meet Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi and leaders of Iraq's sharply divided communities, the minister's spokeswoman, Sara Malmgren, said.

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