Ottawa Citizen

‘ I just wanted to get out and stay alive’ Thousands of Iraqis flee to Sweden


STOCKHOLM • Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have fled the unrelentin­g violence in their homeland since the U. S. invasion in 2003, a mass exodus directed primarily to neighbouri­ng Arab countries.

But a growing tide of Iraqis is seeking shelter and a new start in Europe, where Sweden is emerging as the destinatio­n of choice due to relatively lax immigratio­n laws.

The number of Iraqis applying for asylum in the 25 countries of the European Union rose by nearly 50 per cent to 7,300 in the first six months of the year, bucking a downward trend in the total number of asylum- seekers, UN statistics show.

One- third of them came to Sweden, a country of nine million people with an Iraqi immigrant community of more than 70,000 and which has so far resisted clampdowns on immigratio­n seen elsewhere in the EU.

Muhannad Yousif said he quit his job as a bodyguard at a government ministry and fled Baghdad after being kidnapped and shot, and watching three of his colleagues gunned down within two months in 2005.

Like hundreds of thousands of his countrymen, Mr. Yousif initially went to Jordan, where he paid $ 8,000 U. S. to a smuggler who gave him fake travel documents, a plane ticket and promises of a better life in Sweden.

“ I was not planning to come here. I just wanted to get out of Iraq to stay alive,” Mr. Yousif, 25, said. “ It’s miserable there. Most of my colleagues were either killed or kidnapped.”

Despite the growing number of Iraqi refugees arriving in Europe, the overwhelmi­ng majority of those who have fled the country have ended up in the Middle East. About 890,000 Iraqis have moved to Jordan, Iran and Syria since 2003, according to Iraq’s Immigratio­n Minister Abdul- Samad Sultan.

An additional 300,000 Iraqis have been displaced within the country, half of them since the bombing of a Shia shrine in February sparked a wave of deadly reprisal attacks, he said. ON GLOBAL: WATCH A REPORT ABOUT THE NEW IRAQ STRATEGY AT

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