Swedish Media Shines Spotlight on Iraqi Refugee Trafficking
Assyrian International News Agency
Stockholm (AINA) -- The plight of Iraqi refugees in Sweden was the main story in the Swedish press yesterday. Göran Johansson, mayor of the second largest city in Sweden, has suggested that all refugees that have been smuggled to Sweden should be deported. The issue of Iraqi refugees and human trafficking was exposed in a three-part documentary series aired in Swedish Radio investigative program Kaliber. According to the Kaliber report:
At least 30 Swedish-based groups smuggle Iraqis to Sweden from Syria and Jordan
More than 200,000 valid Swedish passports that in circulation amongst smugglers
Iraqi G-passports and modern EU-passports from Sweden are skillfully forged
The turn-over for the networks behind the trafficking of Iraqis to Sweden this year will be 200-300 million dollars.
According to UNHCR, the flow of Iraqi refugees to Syria has reversed in the last few weeks; more are going back to Iraq now
Working both in Damascus and Sweden, the Swedish Radios program for investigative journalism, Kaliber, has been able to unveil how the Iraqi refugee trafficking business works.
In Damascus the Assyrian-Swedish investigative journalist Nuri Kino and his colleague Marie-Jeanette Löfgren were offered 10,000 dollars for their Swedish passports. Names of Swedish cities like Södertälje and Boden were common knowledge in refugee circles. For 10-20,000 dollars people are offered a passage from Syria to Sweden, normally via Turkey and Greece. The conditions are often dangerous. One couple the reporters met in Sweden had been forced to walk for many hours one night with the risk of drowning in mud and then put in a reefer truck, where 25 other people were crammed; the refugees were in danger of being suffocated. A man in Damascus planned doing the journey with his 3-year-old in the tank of a tanker truck.
Nuri Kino posed as wanting to help a relative get from Iraq to Sweden and was thus able to contact a smuggler in Sweden who assured him to help.
The Swedish Migration Board estimates that 20 000 Iraqis will come illegally to Sweden this year. Being smuggled here costs 10-15,000 dollars, with false identification and travel documents costing extra. The trafficking business is estimated at 200-300 million dollars this year.
Sweden receives most of the Iraqis that come to Europe. According to UNHCR statistics more Iraqis have applied for asylum in Sweden than in the rest of EU combined, 13,989 compared to 13,473 during the period January-September 2007.
The first new Iraqi passports introduced after Saddam Hussein, the so called S-series passports are not recognized anymore since they are too easy to forge. However both the Swedish Embassy in Damascus and the Swedish Police confirm that the widely used, newer G-passports are also being forged. Partly the forgery is made on stolen blank stocks for real passports.
The Swedish Police also state that the Swedish EU-passports produced since 2003 are forged. These are supposed to be safe. The page which describes the holder consists of seven layers, each with different types of hidden information eg holograms or information that must be read with UV-light. The plastic layers should not be possible to separate. Police have not been able to understand how the forgers do it. The few forgeries on the latest generation of biometric passports have so far been easily detected.
Nuri Kino and Marie-Jeanette Löfgren have also been able to establish that all types of documents can be forged; marriage certificates, driver's licenses, army books, stamps, residential permits etc. So sometimes the passport may be real but the residence permit false.
Refugees Going Back
The Kaliber documentary also reported that the European Commission two weeks ago decided to allot half the refugee fund to Sweden, 3.5 million Euros. Four million Iraqis have fled their homes. Most of them to neighboring countries where approximately 2.5 million stay in Jordan and Syria. Until October about 2,000 Iraqis came into Syria every day. Andrew Harper, head of the UNHCR's Iraq Support Team, told the Swedish Radio the situation has completely changed since the last days of October.
Hardly any Iraqis are let into Syria now, perhaps 100 per day. At the same time Iraqis have increasingly started to go back to Iraq. For every Iraqi coming to Syria, two are returning to Iraq, not because it is safe, but because of higher costs in Syria, depletion of refugees' money and the prohibition on Iraqis to work. Syrian authorities have also proclaimed their intent to send Iraqis with expired permits back to Iraq. Mr. Harper criticizes the world community for not helping Syria and says "It [Syria] has cried for help for some time now, and when there has been absolute silence from the international community, they have basically said 1.5 million Iraqis is enough."
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