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Little solace for Iraqis in Sweden
Mounting despair for thousands of Christian Iraqis who sought asylum.
Last Modified: 20 Mar 2008 10:20 GMT
Many of the refugees fled persecution in Iraq
Sweden has taken in more Iraqi refugees than any country in Europe.
 
But the influx is making it harder for refugees to apply for asylum.
 
There are lots of jokes in Sweden about the town of Sodertalje. One is that Iraqis cannot find their country on a map, but they all know where that town is.
Another is that the city should be called "Mesopotalje".
 
The stories from the Iraqi Christian community who fled to Sodertalje are not all that funny though.

Sitting in the church hall, two of them - a dentist and a journalist, both in their early thirties - described how they had paid between $15,000 and $20,000 to a people trafficker.

He got them into Europe through Greece, and dumped them in Stockholm.

Death threats

They did not want to leave Iraq, but the death threats they received for being Christian became too much. However, they found life in Sweden to be a let down.
 

Watch Al Jazeera's exclusive report

Many fear that Sodertalje is turning into a ghetto

Namir Shamany, a refugee, described in perfect English how it was impossible to get a job in Sodertalje because he did not speak Swedish or have the relevant papers.

He said: "For example you work in a restaurant washing dishes, cleaning, anything ... especially if you [do not] speak the language. What do you expect?

"You can't communicate with people so you are not qualified enough to work in any place."
 
Iraqi refugees go to Sodertalje because there are so many of them there already.

Major changes

The local authority and the national government are desperate to get them to live somewhere else in Sweden.

But every time they offer a house, and a job, in a different city, the Iraqis find a way back to the small town where they have their church and their friends.
 
Now, even the ultra-liberal Swedes are talking about major changes to the way they look after Iraqi asylum-seekers.
 
Sweden has already taken 50 per cent of all Iraqis to the European Union, but the danger of small pockets such as Sodertalje becoming ghettoes is driving them to consider new legislation which would force would-be migrants to accept living in a different town, away from the established community.

No education
 

The large Iraqi Christian community
has its own church in Sodertalje
In Sodertalje, there are now enormous queues for reception centres, which teach Iraqis how to speak Swedish or to get a job.

Refugees' children cannot get a place in the local schools, which are full, so they have to manage without an education. Stories of extended families living 15 to a small apartment are common.
 
The Swedish government had nothing to do with the Iraq war, maintaining a neutral position, but has since had to help various countries in the Middle East pick up the pieces.

They still insist they will not put a block on asylum seekers coming, but wish other Western governments - particularly those who fought the war - would help more.

Power of fear

Tobias Billstrom, the migration minister, says: "If you compare the figures for Sweden and the United States, the US should accept just as high a number when you compare the population of the two countries.

"They should have accepted 500,000 Iraqis. So yes, I would like to see more countries step up their efforts in this matter."
 
For a country that is as rich, and with as high a quality of life as Sweden, conditions in the Iraqi areas of Sodertalje are a glaring exception.

But such is the power of fear that Iraqis who had to flee their country still prefer to come here, even without any prospects or hopes for a job or education, than to seek asylum elsewhere.

Their friends, and their church, are their main source of comfort.

Source:
Al Jazeera
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