Sweden slammed for new Iraqi deportations

Sweden’s migration minister has refused to respond to concerns from the United Nations and the Council of Europe about Sweden’s decision to resume the deportation of Iraqis.

Sweden slammed for new Iraqi deportations

Last Wednesday 20 Iraqis, including five Christians, were put on a plane back to Iraq.

“I am concerned since this is not the first time that Sweden has forcibly sent back refugees to Iraq,” Council of Europe parliamentary assembly chair Mevlüt Cavusoglu said in a statement.

“This has occurred notwithstanding the unequivocal position of UNHCR.”

The UN refugee agency UNHCR also expressed its dismay over the new deportations, and pleaded with Sweden to stop them.

“UNHCR strongly reiterates its call on countries to refrain from deporting Iraqis who originate from the most perilous parts of the country,” UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming told journalists in Geneva on Friday.

“This forced return comes at a time when our five offices in Iraq are noting a significant increase in Christians fleeing Baghdad and Mosul to the Kurdistan Regional Government Region and Ninewa plains [in the north].”

She added that the current exodus began following an al-Qaeda attack on a Baghdad church in October.

Despite international concern about the resumed deportations, Swedish migration minister Tobias Billström refused to wade into the matter, instructing his press secretary Edvard Unsgaard to direct questions about Iraqi deportations to the Migration Board (Migrationsverket).

“Because we have independent courts and agencies which make decisions on these matters, it is they who make these assessments,” Unsgaard told the TT news agency.

The government and the Riksdag are only responsible for making laws and rules, Unsgaard continued, pointing out that ministers aren’t supposed to get involved in an agency’s assessments.

“When Sweden is criticised it’s for the assessments that have been made. And it’s the Migration Board that has made those assessments so the Migration Board must answer as to why they’ve made those assessments,” said Unsgaard, who emphasised that the deportation decision shouldn’t be considered the policy of Sweden as a whole.

“Sweden has no general position; it’s the individual agencies that make these assessments. We can’t answer specific cases,” he said.

According to Cavusoglu with the Council of Europe, the European Court of Human Rights is currently “inundated” with cases dealing with Iraqis in Sweden.

He urged Sweden to give the court more time to review the cases before resuming the deportation of Iraqis.

“It might transpire that requests of some of the returnees have not yet been dealt by the Court,” he concluded,” he said.

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Danish soldiers leave Iraq amid Middle East tensions

100 Danish soldiers arrived in Kuwait on Thursday after Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen announced that they were to temporarily relocate from the al-Asad base in Iraq.

Danish soldiers leave Iraq amid Middle East tensions
A file photo showing Danish Minister of Defence Trine Bramsen meeting military personnel. Photo: Niels Christian Vilmann/Ritzau Scanpix

The al-Asad base was one of two military bases hit by Iranian missile strikes earlier this week. The strikes were carried out by Iran in retaliation for the killing of its major general Qassem Soleimani by the United States last week in Baghdad.

Denmark’s defence minister Trine Bramsen wrote on social media that the soldiers had landed in Kuwait. That was confirmed by the Danish armed forces (Forsvaret) on its website.

The 100 soldiers were transported to Kuwait by a Danish Hercules transport aircraft.

“Our soldiers have landed in Kuwait. Their safety is the first priority. I hope they can continue the fight against Isil [terror group Islamic State (Isis), ed.] soon,” Bramsen tweeted.

The announcement from the Danish government came after Iran attacked two military bases in Iraq on Wednesday night, including the al-Asad base, where 133 Danish soldiers are stationed. Danish personnel at the base are involved in training Iraqi forces.

The Danish government has taken the view that, under current circumstances, its personnel cannot continue the work in Iraq.

“I am pleased that the relocation has taken place quickly and on schedule. And I have great respect for the soldiers still at the base, where they continue to carry out important duties,” Bramsen said via the Danish armed forces’ website.

In addition to the 133 soldiers at the al-Asad base, Denmark also has eight staff officers at Nato's Mission Iraq in Baghdad. The eight personnel have also been temporarily moved to Kuwait.

READ ALSO: Denmark parliament to discuss presence of soldiers in Iraq