The deal, which was signed by Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari and Swedish ambassador Niclas Trouve, “is important for our relations with Iraq, which have now been strengthened further,” Migration Minister Tobias Billström said in a statement.
“I welcome the agreement, which lays the groundwork for a lasting asylum policy, and I appreciate that there is agreement between Sweden and Iraq on these questions,” he said.
The accord calls for Iraq to welcome back Iraqis who have seen their asylum applications in Sweden rejected, making it possible for Stockholm to deport Iraqis against their will.
Sweden last year began offering rejected asylum-seekers from Iraq up to 20,000 kronor ($3,150) to voluntarily leave the country, but few have agreed to the offer so far.
Billström told the TT news agency this was because they had so far not faced the possibility of being forcibly deported since Iraq had not agreed to take them back.
“If the element of force is not there, there is no pressure on people to leave,” he said.
Most Iraqis will be sent back on a voluntary basis, the government statement stressed, adding that the new deal would have no effect on the way individual asylum cases are tried in Sweden.
Sweden is the leading European state for granting asylum to Iraqis, who now form the country’s second-largest foreign community after the Finns.
According to the Swedish Migration Board, 18,559 Iraqis sought asylum last year in Sweden, a country of nine million inhabitants, compared with just 8,950 in 2006.
The immigration agency has however slashed the number of Iraqi asylum seekers allowed to stay in Sweden since it ruled last year that “there is no armed conflict in Iraq” and that it was therefore acceptable to return Iraqi citizens to their country.
Iraqis now must prove they are personally threatened at home to be given asylum in Sweden.