Once Open Sweden Now a Hostile Environment for Refugees

Currently, two Iraqi asylum seekers Taha and Salah are living in uncertainty, their cases were rejected by Swedish immigration services, “After leaving Iraq, I went to Sweden, but after three years and half I got a rejection on my asylum case” says the 20 year old Taha, to InsideOver.

From “open heart” to “problem”:

Sweden has been well known for its welcoming atmosphere toward refugees. In 2014, the previous Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt made a speech inviting Swedish citizen to open their heart to refugees seeking protection. In 2015, Sweden received 58,802 asylum cases for which 55% were granted asylum according to Swedish immigration service.

Fast forward to the present, the situation has changed completely. The number of asylum cases dropped down notably in 2018. Just  35,512 aplications were recorded with just 11,217 being accepted, meaning more than 68% of cases were rejected. Even the tone has changed from opening hearts, into solving the Swedish “problem”. “There was a dramatic shift in the discussion in the last four years, immigration issues are now used on the center stage of political debate” Sanna Vestin told InsideOver, author and lecturer in asylum matters and a board member of the Swedish network of refugee support group.

“My father was threatened by the militia, we escaped to Kurdish camps, and then I followed my father to Sweden” says Taha. Taha like many other Iraqis, has been forced to abandon her home because of conflict and violence, According to ‘“Iraq body count”, the number of civilians death since 2014 stood at 80,237 up to the end of October 2018. “I left Iraq after the death of my brother in 2014, he died in an explosion” says Mohamed Yacin, 28. “If we did not have problems, we would not leave our family’s and our settled life behind” Says Salah, a 32 year old who’s father died in an explosion as well.

The number of Iraqi nationals making asylum aplications has declined dramatically from 10,139 in 2017 into 4356 in 2018, in which the number of positive decisions has also lowered to 23% compared to 35% in 2017, according to the statistics of the Swedish immigration service. “The decision now is to reduce the number of refugees in Sweden to the minimum” confirms Vestin.

According to the Swedish Migration Agency, “a person is considered a refugee when they have well-founded reasons to fear persecution due to race, nationality, religious or political beliefs, gender, sexual orientation or affiliation to a particular social group.” but Vestin states that the kind of reasoning the Sweden immigration policy now applies is that not everyone is in danger, if some zones of the country are at war, that person can go and live in an other part of their country”.

Fleeing for a second time

“I was afraid to get deported to Iraq, so I came to Italy” says Taha. Like many other asylum seekers, Mohamed, Salah and Taha, were advised to come to Italy, “when I arrived, many people helped me with the procedures to present my asylum case, and to get a place in the camp”. “Well, it is not easy, it is actually very hard, to handle the life here with no help” confirms Taha.

Many asylum seekers are coming to Italy after being rejected by Northern EU countries. “According to the rules of the Dublin regulation, if someone presents his asylum case in one EU country, he/she cannot seek asylum in another EU country”, emphasises Loprieno Donatella, researcher on migrant rights and professor at university of Calabria. “Dublin regulation defines which state has the obligation to evaluate the asylum cases presented by people who arrive in Europe,” says Francesca parisi, a lawyer specialised on migration issues and based in Palermo, Sicily.

But, even with such a rule, many asylum cases were recognized by Italy and were granted protection. According to Parisi, every country in Europe that signed the Dublin regulation has a free choice on its application, so when someone is rejected by an other European country, usually, they are given a provisory residence called a Dublin, waiting to decide if the case will be taken by Italy or if they will be sent back to the first country responsible for their case. Within a few months, if the country in question does not reply, then Italy will open their case.

For Fausto Melluso, responsible for immigration affairs in Sicily, he considers that Dublin regulation was never applied, “if you look at the statistics, where there are fewer asylum applications, these are the countries without external maritime borders, states that are hard to be the first country of entrance”. “I made the right choice by coming to Italy, I got subsidiary protection status some months ago” says Mohammed. “International protection is divided into two sections, political asylum and subsidiary protection, and in Italy, there is also humanitarian protection which was applicable unti 2 months ago” says Francesca Parisi

The absence of a EU perspective on asylum cases:

In Europe, there is a lack of desire for greater unity, according to Melluso, European countries do not have a common plan on asylum cases. Even though there are some international agreements like the Dublin regulation, every country judges asylum cases based on its own migration rules, confirms the lawyer Parisi.

Sharing the same perspective, Michala Bendixen, head of ‘Refugees Welcome” in Denmark emphasises, “A common EU asylum system is obviously a good idea and would solve such situations, but the EU cannot agree on such a system, the assessment in each country is very different.”

With all of this struggle, and without a future perspective, Taha and Salah are waiting for their asylum cases to be processed with the hope of getting the piece of paper that will give them safety once again. “I hope that Italy will not disappoint us” says Salah, “I am resisting this hardness and I hope to win in the end.” States Taha.