- The Washington Times - Monday, June 2, 2008

STOCKHOLM — He had received detailed instructions from a smuggler to whom he had paid $10,000 for help in fleeing to Europe.

“I said, ‘Bye-bye, passport,’ ” the refugee recalled laughingly Friday night at a bar in the predominantly immigrant Stockholm suburb of Rinkeby, where he has been living for more than a year.

Since the war in Iraq began in 2003, more than 40,000 Iraqis have found refuge in Sweden, Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt said after a meeting with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice last week.

“I stressed the importance of burden-sharing among nations, and the special responsibility of the U.S.,” said Mr. Reinfeldt, whose country has taken in more Iraqi refugees than any other.

The State Department said in April that the United States has admitted about 5,000 Iraqi refugees since 2003 - one-eighth as many as Sweden.

Although all those coming to the U.S. went through an official selection process before reaching American shores, Sweden has had to deal with large numbers of refugees who arrive from the Middle East uninvited.

“The moment they hand in an application as asylum-seekers, they receive legal status,” Swedish Migration Minister Tobias Billstrom said in an interview. “The Geneva Conventions is absolutely clear: Whether you arrive here legally or illegally doesn’t matter.”

Smuggling networks have been exploiting that fact for decades. These days, however, their methods are much more sophisticated than simply loading dozens of people onto a truck, government officials and refugees said.

The refugee at the bar in Rinkeby and two of his friends spoke to The Washington Times. All declined to have their names published for fear of attracting unwanted official attention.

But all three willingly discussed the illicit travels by air, land and sea that brought them to Sweden. They all started in Syria, but took completely different routes.

The first man traveled first to Nigeria, where a man waiting in the airport’s transit area put a falsified European visa in his passport, and he then boarded a flight to Amsterdam. The visa admitted him to the so-called Schengen zone, where passport-free travel is possible in 29 European countries.

It was on that flight that the man threw his passport into the toilet. He had to eliminate all evidence he was from Iraq so he could not be returned there. He adopted the new name of Rami.

To confuse the Dutch officers even more, he wandered in the transit area at the Amsterdam airport for two days so they could not identify the flight on which he had arrived. When he surrendered, the authorities detained him for more than a day without food, he said, and then sent him to a refugee-holding facility about three hours away.

“From there, another smuggler came to get me and drove me to Germany,” and then on to Sweden, the man said, speaking in Arabic with his friend Salam Gabban translating into English. Mr. Gabban is an Iraqi-born social worker who has lived in Sweden for 18 years and now helps new arrivals start a life here.

The refugee’s two friends are a few years younger, though all three are in their 20s. One of them flew from Syria to Malaysia, and then on to Hungary, where he got a fake Swedish passport.

The other was the most adventurous of the three; he made his way to Turkey and swam about 400 yards to a Greek island. It took him a month to obtain a fake Swedish passport, after which he flew to Denmark and took a train to Sweden.

Mr. Billstrom said Greece is the most common port of entry in the Schengen zone for illegal immigrants, but most of them end up in Sweden, which has a reputation for being the friendliest to refugees.

That is changing, Mr. Billstrom said. The rejection rate of asylum applications from Iraqis jumped from 25 percent to 75 percent in the past two years, he said. It is not enough anymore that Iraq is a dangerous place.

“The Supreme Court of Migration ruled last June that you must have individual reasons to stay in Sweden,” he said, adding that the court also allowed the government to deport those whose applications have been rejected.

Mr. Billstrom said that about 300 of those who were rejected voluntarily returned to Iraq in the first four months of the year because of the improved security situation in that country.

The Rinkeby refugees, however, have no desire to go back. They said they did not go through the official refugee process, headed by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, because it takes too long, and because it was unlikely they would have ended up in Sweden.

“I want to live here like a human being, without any problems,” said the first man, who has had numerous jobs in the past year and is now working in a supermarket. “I want to be a policeman. It’s been my dream for a long time.”

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