Friday, April 20, 2007

Many of the thousands of Iraqis fleeing their homeland want to go to Europe, and Stockholm, Sweden is their port of entry

Spiegel Online:

Ridha Mohammed recently arrived at Stockholm's Arlanda International Airport. He handed his forged passport to an unknown companion and waited for a while in the arrivals hall. Then he told Swedish immigration agents where he was from. As an Iraqi refugee, he didn't have to worry about any potential problems.

Ridha, 40, wants to "start a new life" in Stockholm. He plans to bring his wife Tamathur, 36, and the couple's three children to Sweden as quickly as possible. "Anything is better than Baghdad," he says, even though every phone call with his family is "heart-breaking."

For a long time, life in Baghdad wasn't half bad for Ridha, who lived with his family in a decent apartment in Baghdad Jadida, a neighborhood in the east of the city. But the family's well-ordered life had begun to come apart recently. "Bombs every day," says Ridha, "morning, noon and night, and never any security."

Ridha, like thousands of his fellow Iraqis, has found a new life in northern Europe. Sweden, because of its liberal visa requirements, guarantees Iraqi expatriates the right of residence in the country. Last year Sweden welcomed more than 9,000 Iraqis, which was close to 50 percent of all Iraqi refugees arriving in Europe in 2006 and four times as many as in the previous year. Eight hundred Iraqis fled to Switzerland, and almost 2,000 Iraqis applied for asylum in Germany in 2006 (although only 1.1 percent of those applications were approved). The United States, which launched its crusade against the "Axis of Evil" by invading Iraq, accepted less than 600 refugees from Baghdad and other Iraqi cities.

According to estimates by the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), about two million Iraqis have left their country since the war started in 2003, most going to neighboring Syria (1.2 million) and Jordan (750,000). Some return as soon conditions improve in their village or city.

At the same time, the flow of refugees to Europe is increasing. About 80,000 Iraqis already live in Sweden, where the government and municipalities provide generous financial support for language courses, job training, apartments and welfare benefits. Life is so good in Sweden that families are encouraging their relatives and friends to follow their example and move there.

Iraqi Refugees Head Toward Sweden

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