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Warrant issued for ‘tortured’ US Muslim seeking asylum in Sweden

The United States has issued an arrest warrant for an American Muslim seeking political asylum in Sweden after he publicly claimed he was imprisoned and tortured at the behest the American FBI.

Warrant issued for 'tortured' US Muslim seeking asylum in Sweden

According to recently filed court documents, Yonas Fikre, a 33-year-old Muslim who is a naturalized US citizen, is suspected of being involved in wire transfers of large sums of money designed to skirt US reporting requirements, US news website msnbc.com reports.

Fikre is currently in Sweden awaiting a decision on his application filed for political asylum after having been imprisoned in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) where he claims he was tortured for 106 days at the request of American government agents.

The US government indictment accuses Fikre, his brother, and another man of wanting to “conceal from the United States their connection to the money transfers” totaling around $75,000.

The US believes that Fikre deliberately “structured” a series of wire transfers by sending amounts less than $10,000 in order to avoid having to report the transfers to the federal government.

Fikre’s US-based attorney rejected the charges against his client, however.

“Frankly, I think its retaliation and retribution,” he told msnbc.com, adding that Firke had previously been questioned about the transfers by FBI agents in April 2010.

In mid-April. Fikre went public with allegations that he suffered illegal torture and imprisonment in the UAE at the behest of the FBI.

“He told me to lie down on the floor and he started beating the soles of my feet,” he said in a video clip published on the YouTube channel of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), an advocacy group for American Muslims which has supported Fikre throughout his ordeal.

He claims to have been tortured for 106 days, in what he described to the AP news agency as the most isolating experience of his life.

In addition to having his bare feet beaten, Fikre claims to have been kicked and punched and sprayed with a fire hose.

“It wasn’t actual FBI agents who tortured him, they were private contractors,” his Swedish lawyer Hand Bredberg told The Local at the time Fikre went public, adding that the prison where his client was held was “a few hundred metres” from the US embassy.

After being released from his captors in September, Fikre came to Sweden because some distant relatives from Eritrea live here.

Since then, Fikre has been in Sweden while his asylum application has been processed, something Bredberg said has taken longer than usual.

TT/AFP/The Local

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SWEDISH CITIZENSHIP

‘The idea is to convert permanent residency into Swedish citizenship,’ Migration minister says

Sweden's Migration Minister has responded to criticism of the government's proposal to abolish permanent residency, telling an interviewer that the hope is that holders will gain full citizenship rather than get downgraded to temporary status.

'The idea is to convert permanent residency into Swedish citizenship,' Migration minister says

“The main idea behind the [Tidö] agreement is that we should convert permanent residency to citizenship,” Maria Malmer Stenergard, from the right-wing Moderate Party, told the Svenska Dagbladet newspaper.”You should not be here forever on a permanent residence permit. A clear path to citizenship is needed.”

I envision that you will receive individual plans for how to achieve this,” she continued. “Learn the language, earn a living, and have knowledge of Swedish society, so that you can fully become a Swedish citizen.” 

Malmer Stenergard said it was still unclear whether a planned government inquiry into the possibility of “converting…existing permanent residence permits” would also open the way for those who have been given a permanent right to live in the country to be downgraded to a temporary residency permit. 

“We’ll have to look at that,” she said. “There is a problem with positive administrative decisions and changing them, which the Migration Agency’s director general Mikael Ribbenvik has been aware of. We also state in the Tidö Agreement that basic principles of administrative law shall continue to apply.” 

READ ALSO: What do we know about Sweden’s plans to withdraw permanent residency?

In the Tidö Agreement, the deal between the far-right Sweden Democrats and the three government parties, it says that “asylum-related residence permits should be temporary and the institution of permanent residence permits should be phased out to be replaced by a new system based on the immigrant’s protection status”.

It further states that “an inquiry will look into the circumstances under which existing permanent residence permits can be converted, for example through giving affected permit holders realistic possibilities to gain citizenship before a specified deadline. These changes should occur within the framework of basic legal principles.”

Malmer Stenergard stressed that the government would only retroactively reverse an administrative decision (over residency) if a way can be found to make such a move compatible with such principles. 

“This is why we state in the Tidö Agreement that basic principles of administrative law must apply,” she said. 

She said the government had not yet come to a conclusion on what should happen to those with permanent residency who either cannot or are unwilling to become Swedish citizens. 

“We’re not there yet, but of course we’re not going to be satisfied with people just having an existing permanent residency, which in many cases has been granted without any particularly clear demands, if they don’t then take the further steps required for citizenship.” 

This did not mean, however, that those with permanent residency permits should be worried, she stressed. 

“If your ambition is to take yourself into Swedish society, learn the language, become self-supporting, and live according to our norms and values, I think that there’s a very good chance that you will be awarded citizenship.” 

She said that even if people couldn’t meet the requirements for citizenship, everyone with permanent residency should at least have “an individual plan for how they are going to become citizens”, if they want to stay in Sweden. 

When it comes to other asylum seekers, however, she said that the government’s aim was for residencies to be recalled more often. 

“We want to find a way to let the Migration Agency regularly reassess whether the grounds for residency remain. The aim is that more residencies should be recalled, for example, if a person who is invoking a need of asylum or other protection then goes back to their home country for a holiday.” 

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