Largely barred from U.S. entry, growing numbers of Iraqi refugees are knocking on the doors of Europe – and particularly refugee-friendly Sweden.
The estimated 20,000 refugees who found haven last year in northerly Sweden are only a handful compared to around 1.8 million who have stampeded into neighboring Syria and Jordan. The difference is that Sweden is attracting both the very wealthy and also highly qualified middle-class professionals.
With some 36,000 additional Iraqis expected to turn up this year at Stockholm Airport, the Swedish government says it now needs to share the burden with other Europeans, who are more restrictive. "There simply must be solidarity between member states in the European Union (EU), and that more and more EU countries can share this responsibility and offer protection for the refugees," wrote two Swedish government ministers in a newspaper article yesterday. Sweden, with a population of only 9 million, also seeks EU financial assistance to deal with Iraqi refugees.
Europe was quick to respond. The European Union said today it will take up the matter immediately with member states at the request of Sweden. "This should be a problem, as well, for other member countries," said Franco Frattini, EU Justice Minister. He was speaking at a press conference following a meeting in Brussels of all the justice, interior, and immigration ministers within the 27-nation European Union.
Germany, as EU powerhouse, has received only 1,918 Iraqi asylum applications in the first six months of last year. Freewheeling Sweden – with a long tradition of political neutrality – offers more favorable preconditions for refugees and exiles.
The U.S. granted asylum to only 202 Iraqis last year, citing security reasons. The Swedish attitude is very different. "We don’t turn anyone back. Look at the circumstances they have left," said an officer at the Swedish Migration Board.