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AIRLINE

Sweden stops flights to Iran over safety concerns

Sweden on Friday stopped direct flights to Iran, citing "unclarity" around the crash of a Ukrainian passenger plane earlier this week where 176 people were killed.

Sweden stops flights to Iran over safety concerns
Photo: AKBAR TAVAKOLI / IRNA / AFP

The Swedish Transport Agency said in a statement on Friday that it decided to temporarily withdraw the traffic permit for Iran Air for flights between Sweden and Iran, citing “unclarity around the accident and safety for civilian air traffic.”

Iran Air is the only airline that flies directly between Sweden and Iran.

“We understand that this could create problems for travellers.

But the passengers' safety is paramount and that's why we have decided to temporarily halt the flights,” Gunnar Ljungberg, head of sea and air traffic at The Swedish Transport Agency, said in a statement.

All 176 people on board died when the Ukrainian International Airlines plane went down near Tehran on Wednesday, shortly after Iran launched missiles at US forces in Iraq over the killing of a top Iranian general.

American, British and Canadian officials say intelligence sources indicate Iran shot down the plane, perhaps unintentionally, but this has been denied by Tehran.

The Swedish foreign ministry on Friday confirmed that 17 of the victims were “domiciled” in Sweden, with seven being citizens and 10 registered residents.

“We demand that the incident is investigated speedily, impartially and transparently,” Swedish foreign minister Ann Linde wrote on Twitter.

While Iran Air's flights to Sweden were halted by a government agency, other airlines have voluntarily decided to halt flights to Iran.

Austrian Airlines announced late Thursday that its flight to Tehran that day was ordered to return to Vienna after a stopover in Sofia.

German group Lufthansa said Friday it was cancelling all flights to and from Tehran until January 20 “due to the unclear security situation for the airspace around Tehran airport”.

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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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