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IRAN

‘Iran may be spying on exiles in Sweden’: agency

Iran has both the ability and the inclination to keep tabs on political antagonists in Sweden, according to new guidelines issued by the Swedish Migration Board (Migrationsverket).

“They have both the ability and a strong interest in doing so,” Mikael Ribbenvik, legal expert at the Migration Board told news agency TT.

The Migration Board has now issued new guidelines on Iran, describing which groups are being persecuted and how the regime’s surveillance of the opposition abroad should be considered when exiled Iranians’ asylum claims are decided upon.

The new guidelines reflect the Migration Board’s assessment, after liaising with Sweden’s Security Services, Säpo, that the regime in Tehran puts “considerable resources” into mapping out the activities of those opposing the government, even if they became politically active outside of Iran.

“Things have deteriorated in Iran in recent years in the wake of the 2009 election. The regime has also shown a growing concern over witnessing several governments in the Middle East and Northern Africa fall,” said Ribbenvik.

The hard line shown by Iran has meant that more refugees have been granted asylum in Sweden.

However, the Migration Board has been under fire after refusing to grant asylum to an Iranian man in September, despite the fact that he has been openly politically active while in Sweden.

According to the court, his activity had been on too low a level and the court never considered whether his activities could be known to the Iranian government.

The new guidelines from the Migration Board will replace information issued as late as July, which were never considered in the case of the politically active Iranian asylum seeker.

According to the agency, the court instead based its decision on British intelligence on Iran from last year.

What the new guidelines on the one hand, and the court’s decision on the other, will mean for asylum seekers from Iran, Ribbenvik wouldn’t speculate.

“In many cases, the information we have about the country is crucial in these matters. However, it isn’t possible to anticipate these cases in advance or say who will get to stay and who won’t, or if there will be more allowed to stay or less,” he said.

Attempts by The Local to reach the Iranian embassy in Stockholm for comment on Monday were unsuccessful.

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IRAN

Foreign students risk losing Swedish university offers after embassies close for interviews

An Iranian student planning on starting university in Sweden this autumn has told The Local he and many others risk being unable to take up their places after the Swedish embassy cancelled their visa interview appointments.

Foreign students risk losing Swedish university offers after embassies close for interviews
Amin Ansari, a project manager and and part-time lecturer, fears he will not be able to start his course later this month. Photo: Private
Amin Ansari, a project manager and and part-time lecturer from Iran, is due to start an MSc in Innovation and Industrial Management at Gothenburg University later this month, but before he can come to Sweden, he first needs to have an in-person physical interview at the Swedish embassy in Tehran. 
 
But after applying for an interview on July 23rd, he was informed on July 26th that the embassy had cancelled all scheduled visa interviews, and was not currently taking new appointments. The embassy also announced the cancellation of all appointments in a statement on its web page
 
“Such a decision will prevent us from travelling to Sweden on time, we may lose our offer of admission, which will profoundly affect our academic future,” Amin Ansari, a project manager and and part-time lecturer told The Local. 
 
“Also, it is worthwhile to mention that we have spent a considerable amount of time and money up to this point, which will be lost thoroughly by this decision.” 
 
 
Ansari has formed a Whatsapp group with roughly 70 Iranians who had been hoping to study in Sweden.
 
The students complain that even though it is less than two weeks before their classes are scheduled to start, and only a matter of days before they reach their tuition fee reimbursement deadline, they have not yet managed to obtain any indication of when or if their interviews would be rescheduled.

 
Ansari said that he felt Iranian students were being unfairly singled out as “Swedish embassies in many other countries, regardless of the intense Covid-19 pandemic, are fully active”. 
 
He said he and other students had repeatedly contacted Sweden's Migration Agency, the Swedish Foreign Ministry, the Swedish embassy in Tehran, and its ambassador, without getting any indication of when or if interviews might be possible.  
 
“We have been told that the embassy ruled this policy as an internal resolution,” he said. “But unfortunately all our efforts so far have not yielded any results.”
 

A screenshot of an email, seen by The Local, sent to Amin by the Swedish Embassy in Tehran.

 
When The Local contacted the Swedish foreign ministry, a press officer suggested instead contacting the Swedish Migration Agency, suggesting they were responsible for student visas. 
 
But in an email to Ansari, the Swedish Migration Agency, said that embassy interviews were in fact the responsibility of the foreign ministry and could not be influenced by the Migration Agency. 
 
“The coronavirus pandemic has compelled embassies in certain countries to take measures to protect their visitors and staff, such as delaying appointments, and this is not something which the Swedish Migration Agency is able to influence,” the agency told Ansari in an email. 
 
The KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm told The Local that it had “a number of overseas students prevented from getting to Sweden”. 
 
“In most cases, this means that the foreign authorities need to open up to implement the biometric part of the entry permit,” it said.
 
“For this reason, KTH has extended the possibility for non-Europeans to begin their studies until September 7th. However, they must come physically to Stockholm and KTH. No one is allowed to start their studies at a distance.” 

 
Iran is by far country in the Middle East worst-hit by coronavirus, with leaked figures sent to the BBC's Persian service by an anonymous source indicating that almost 42,000 people died with Covid-19 symptoms up to July 20th – triple the official figure of 14,405 reported by the health ministry.
 
Since the start of June, the country has been hit by a severe second wave of the pandemic, with as many people dying in mid-July as during the country's first peak in March.
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