Steep drop in Iraqi asylum claims

The number of Iraqi asylum requests in Sweden plunged by half in the first six months of 2008, due primarily to stricter asylum criteria, the Swedish Migration Board said on Monday.

Iraqis, who made up the biggest group of asylum seekers with almost 4,000 requests in the first six months of the year, are also the group “that has diminished the most”, decreasing “by half” over 2007, Migration Board spokeswoman Marie Andersson told AFP.

A total of 18,559 Iraqis sought asylum last year in Sweden.

In 2007, Sweden was the leading European country for granting asylum to Iraqis, who now form the country’s second largest foreign community after Finns.

“The acceptance rules for asylum requests have been tightened in Sweden,”

Andersson said.

Immigration authorities 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.

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, about 25 percent of Iraqis who sought asylum had their requests granted in the period January to March, compared to about 70 percent in the full-year 2007 and 80 percent in 2006.

“It has also been harder for Iraqis to leave Iraq, since neighbouring countries have tightened their criteria” for crossing their borders, introducing visa requirements among other things, Andersson said.

She added that another reason for the decline in asylum requests was that “the situation in Iraq had improved slightly.”

Iraqis make up 25 percent of asylum seekers in Sweden, followed by Somalis and Serbs.

Of the 12,000 people who sought asylum in Sweden in the first half of the year, 8,000 were men.