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Last Updated: Friday, 6 July 2007, 01:04 GMT 02:04 UK
Iraqis choose Sweden as new home
By Stina Backer
BBC News, Amal

Halim Ibrahim with his wife Wafa and two of their children
Halim and his wife Wafa say Amal is a good place for their children

Halim Ibrahim and his family are among the half of all Iraqis who choose Sweden as their destination when they flee to Europe from their war-torn homeland.

"We wanted to get as far away from Iraq as possible," said 50-year-old Halim, standing outside his ground floor flat in southern Sweden.

"Everyone wants to go to Sweden, it has always been good to Iraqis. They respect human rights here. I wanted my children to grow up in a safe country, that's why we chose Sweden," said Halim.

The Ibrahims are not alone in coming to Sweden to make a new home.

Financial strain

Last year Sweden received 8,950 asylum applications from Iraqis, nearly half of the 22,200 who came to Europe. The United Kingdom received only 1,305, according to UN statistics.

With only nine million inhabitants, Sweden is feeling the financial strain of receiving such a high proportion of refugees.

Wafa Ibrahim in her kitchen in Amal
Many Iraqis are finding it hard to get a job in Sweden

During an EU meeting of justice and interior ministers in April, Swedish Migration Minister Tobias Billstroem urged other European countries to share the responsibility of providing protection to Iraqi refugees.

"There are many reasons why so many Iraqis choose Sweden," says Mr Billstroem. "There are more than 80,000 Iraqis in Sweden, so many have relatives here. They also know that we generally grant asylum to those from central and southern Iraq."

A long-term opponent of Saddam Hussein and a Shia Muslim from southern Iraq, Halim would get taken away by the police to be interrogated on a regular basis.

For days he would be gone without his family knowing if he was still alive.

"The police harassed anyone who was related to me because they knew I had been politically active. I had to leave to save myself and my family," he said.


Halim had to flee Iraq in 2001 without his wife, Wafa, or his four children. The family was reunited a year later in Sweden, where Halim had been granted asylum.

"We had to sell everything we owned and borrow a lot of money to be able to get out of Iraq. We had to bribe many officials on our way. We're still in a lot of debt," said Wafa.

The family now live in a small Swedish town called Amal. The family likes it here. "It is quiet and safe, good for the children," said Halim.

In Iraq both Halim and Wafa worked, in Amal it has not been so easy, and both are unemployed.

"Most Iraqis in Sweden can only get a job as a taxi driver, it's quite sad," says their 21-year-old son Karrar who has just finished his school-leaving exams and is going to university in the autumn.

Amal council leader Kurt Svensson
Kurt Svensson says more refugees in Amal will be problematic
Amal Council has just been asked by the government if they can double their intake of Iraqi refugees this year to 60 people.

But council leader Kurt Svensson wishes it was that easy: "Like the rest of Sweden we're finding it difficult to find jobs for Iraqis."

"The government has no system in place to convert their qualifications, and many can't or don't want to retrain. Some don't get hired because they are foreign."

"On the whole it's costing society a lot of money, and it's a waste of talent. When they're unemployed it makes it harder to fully integrate them into Swedish society," Svensson says with a sigh.

This year the Swedish government estimates they will receive 20,000 asylum applications from Iraqis, more than 50 a day.

"It's therefore vital that the EU will get a harmonised asylum policy by 2010 as promised," says Tobias Billstroem.

"We don't want any quotas for how many refugees Europe should accept, on the contrary we want the common EU rules to be more similar to the Swedish, because it is vital to ensure the right to asylum is not infringed."

Doors closing on fleeing Iraqis
24 Jan 07 |  Middle East

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