UNHCR criticizes Sweden’s Iraqi refugee policy

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees on Tuesday criticized Sweden's policy of deporting rejected Iraqi asylum seekers to the southern and central regions of their home country.

UNHCR is recommending people not to be sent back against their will to southern and central Iraq in the present circumstances,” Antonio Guterres told Swedish Radio on Tuesday.

Since July 2007, Swedish immigration authorities have ruled that Iraqis from the southern and central regions of the country have to prove they are personally threatened in their country to be given residency.

That decision was based on an immigration court’s ruling that there “is no armed conflict in Iraq, according to the definition from Swedish legislation.”

Sweden is the western country that has taken in the most Iraqi refugees. In 2007, 18,559 Iraqis sought asylum in Sweden, compared to 8,950 in 2006.

Guterres was in Stockholm on Tuesday for talks with Swedish Migration Minister Tobias Billström.

The discussions focused on a memorandum of understanding signed by Sweden and Iraq in February in which Iraq agreed to take back rejected asylum seekers.

The UNHCR representative for the Baltic and Nordic countries, Hans ten Feld, had expressed concern about several aspects of the accord in a letter sent to Billström on March 13th, a copy of which was obtained by AFP.

The UN agency criticized, among other things, the fact that the agreement makes no distinction about whether the rejected asylum seekers come from the northern parts of Iraq, or the more volatile southern and central parts.

“The level of human rights violations and violence along sectarian and intra-sectarian lines remain high in both central and southern Iraq. Hence the position remains that Iraqis from central and southern Iraq should be considered as refugees,” he wrote.