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Baghdad... Stockholm

Sweden welcomed Iraq war refugees but a growing backlash against immigration is testing the future of multiculturalism.

Last Modified: 10 Apr 2013 07:49
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Filmmaker: Mohammad Omar

Over the past decade, tens of thousands of Iraqis have fled their country to resettle in Sweden. Iraqi-born Swedes are today one of the largest ethnic minority groups living in the country.

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"When I came to Sweden in 1989, I felt exhausted. I wasn't able to contact my family in Iraq for ten years. I feared the regime may get them. The number of immigrants was small so we were welcomed by the Swedish authorities," recalls Abbas Khdair Abbas, a taxi driver.

"They took us to a refugee hostel. It had excellent rooms, bathrooms, food and a restaurant. We didn't have to wait long to be granted a residence permit. It took me four months. While waiting, they didn't leave you sitting around. We would be studying and they organised trips for us."

However, in 2007, Swedish immigration authorities ruled there was no longer an armed conflict in Iraq and that it was therefore acceptable to send Iraqi citizens back to their country. And a number of Iraqi refugees were deported amid protests, criticism from human rights groups and concern expressed by the United Nations.

"I learned the language really quickly. I made Swedish friends the minute I got here. But differences emerge when it comes to religion. Because I'm Muslim and an Arab I don't drink alcohol and I dont do the things they normally do," says Ban al-Sabaawi, a student.

"I believe in God, I fast and I follow my religious teachings. I got a lot of questions and strange looks. Some people get offended and some are curious to know. I try to explain as much as I can."

This film tells the story of Iraqi immigrants in Sweden, highlighting issues of integration, multiculturalism as well as an emerging right-wing backlash against immigration.

"There is a preconceived notion about people coming to Sweden. We don't see their potentials and employ them. We are very bad in evaluating their qualification so they can't maintain their profession," explains Christina Hoj Larsen, a Left party member of the Swedish parliament.

This episode of Al Jazeera World can be seen from Tuesday, April 9, at the following times GMT: Tuesday: 2000; Wednesday: 1200; Thursday: 0100; Friday: 0600; Saturday: 2000; Sunday: 1200; Monday: 0100; Tuesday: 0600.

Click here for more Al Jazeera World.

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