Sweden wants other EU nations to help with its Iraqi asylum seeker problem
Sweden's migration minister said on Tuesday he would this week ask other European Union nations to help shoulder the growing burden of asylum seekers fleeing violence in Iraq for the Nordic nation.
"We feel that it is important that more countries bear a share of this responsibility," Migration Minister Tobias Billstrom told Reuters.
Billstrom said he would raise the issue with colleagues on Thursday at an EU ministers' meeting in Brussels, although the question is not on the formal agenda.
A total of 9,065 Iraqis sought asylum in Sweden in 2006, up from 2,330 in 2005. The number is forecast to more than double to 20,000 this year, he said.
Sweden is receiving more than half of the applications from Iraqis seeking asylum in Europe, Billstrom added.
Jesus Carmona, spokesman for the European Commission's Directorate of Justice and Home Affairs, said there may not be an easy way to divert the flow of Iraqis to other EU nations.
"The only way would be on a voluntary basis other member states could take some responsibility," Carmona said.
"But that's a delicate question because you need the asylum seeker to be happy to move to another country."
Under EU directives, the country that receives an asylum application is responsible for handling it.
Sweden's appeal lies in its relative openness to refugees and to its established 70,000-strong Iraqi community.
"We work constantly on providing people who have a need with shelter but I would like to point out that Sweden can't help all people," Billstrom said, stressing that all asylum seekers face a full screening before their applications are accepted.
He stopped short of urging other EU nations to further open their borders.
"If one is going to have a constructive debate, and Sweden wants to have a constructive debate, then it doesn't do to sit down and point fingers," the minister said.
"This is about turning the thing the other way around. How do we attract more people to the other countries of the EU?"
By 2010, the EU hopes to complete an agreement on a common asylum system with a harmonised set of rights and obligations for all asylum seekers.
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