Unlike other Scandinavian countries that have a history of turning away asylum seekers and people in search of a better life, Sweden has a long tradition of opening its arms to embrace those who have endured the greatest of hardships. Throughout the ’60s and ’70s, the country used massive advertising campaigns to woo workers from southern Europe, and during the ’70s and ’80s, opened its doors to refugees fleeing such volatile states as Chile, Vietnam and Somalia.
Today, Sweden has also become a safe haven for Iraqis fleeing their war-torn land. According to statistics released by the UN refugee agency last week, in 2007 alone Sweden received 18,600 asylum applications from Iraqis. To put it in perspective, the southeastern Swedish town of Södertälje, a city of 83,000 people, took in more Iraqis last year than Canada and the United States combined. “Iraq is the worst refugee disaster in the Middle East since 1948,” Sweden’s Minister for Migration Tobias Billström told msnbc.com in June. “We want to do as much as we can but we can’t help everybody.”
Yet Sweden’s open-door policy is currently in a state of flux as attitudes toward refugees are changing. After appealing to the United States and certain EU nations to share the burden, Sweden is drastically altering its asylum requirements. Last summer, the country’s migration appeals court ruled that there was no “internal armed conflict” in Iraq, and asylum seekers must now prove they are being singled out for persecution. The approval rate for Iraqi applicants has since dropped from about 80 per cent just two years ago to a lowly 20 per cent. Those denied entry are presented with a choice: voluntarily accept a plane ticket and a few funds to return home, or be forcefully ejected by the police.
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