Thursday, September 8, 2011

Kurdish refugee forced to choose between voluntary and forced deportation by Swedish authorities

Erbil, August 21  – A Kurdish refugee in Sweden who has been living for eight months under the threat of being forcefully deported to Baghdad has finally been warned to either go home voluntarily or face being handed over to the police who are authorized to treat him the way they wish to force him get on board on a plane bound to Baghdad later this month.

He is a 21-year-old Kurdish refugee from Koya city, east of Erbil – the Iraqi Kurdistan capital – who left Kurdistan in 2009 in quest of a new life in Europe. He is now living a life of uncertainty and hardship in Karlskrona after his asylum claim was rejected by the Swedish authorities. 

Awara says he is the "victim of a deal between the Iraqi government and some European countries, including Sweden, to forcefully deport Iraqi refugees, in particular Kurds, to Baghdad"

Awara is not the only person to allude to an alleged behind-the-curtains deal in which the Iraqi government will receive the deported refugees at Baghdad airport without protest in return for its debts to the countries concerned. The existence of such a deal however has been refuted by the Swedish authorities.
                                                                                                
When he left Kurdistan, Awara had dreams of making an easy living in Europe and helping his family back at home. He left because he felt there was "injustice" in Kurdistan. 

"I left because of the political and social injustice in Kurdistan… I had two older brothers who  had graduated from college and yet had failed to find a job in the public sector," Awara said. He was only 16 when he dropped out of school thinking it of no use to study in a region where college graduates remain unemployed. 

"I thought to myself, what is the use of studying when I know that there is no future. So I dropped out with the hope of doing some work instead of studying – which was a waste of time for me," he said.

Awara decided to migrate to Europe when he was 19 and was encouraged by the idyllic stories he heard from friends and others of the life people lived in Europe with plenty of opportunities for employment and far away from social injustices.

Another source of encouragement was the plethora of people smugglers who told positive tales of life in Europe and how easy it is to get there and be granted asylum.

He embarked on his journey to Europe in 2009. First, he entered Turkey and from there entered Greece. "I stayed in Greece for about one and a half years. Later, I crossed into Italy where I slept for two months on the streets because I had nowhere to go," he said.

Awara then had to cross France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany before finally making it to Sweden. During his long journey, Awara experienced all kinds of suffering and hardships; sleeping on the streets, sometimes hungry and cold; walking for days and the ubiquitous racist abuse.

He said Europeans in general - including the Swedes - refer to Kurds and people from the Middle East as "black heads" and look down on them.

"For instance, if you board a train and a Swedish woman sees you, she will try to hide her bags as if you are a thief and will look at you with disdain. To be quite honest, Europe is not the paradise it seems to be."

With a sigh, Awara said that "If I really knew this was the reality of Europe, I would never have come here."

Yet he had to put up with all that, because he had hopes for life there and his family in Kurdistan had high hopes for him. He hid from the eyes of the authorities for a while in fear of being captured and deported to Iraq.

But his patience had its limits and living in hiding was not the kind of life he had dreamed of, so he turned himself in to the authorities hoping they would grant him asylum, or at least let him stay without fears of being chased and deported.

He turned himself in to the police in November 2011 but the court rejected his claim and all his dreams evaporated.

"Now the authorities have told me that if I sign a document that attests I will voluntarily leave Sweden for Iraq they will give me US$5,000, however, if refuse to sign it, they will hand me over to the police to treat me the way they want and force me by any means to board the plane to Iraq."

"They have given me until August 26 to make up my mind," he said.

Awara spoke of his misery after everything he's been through to carve out a new life for himself.

 "I am about to go crazy as I see all my dreams, my sufferings, all the money I spent and the dangers I faced on the trip were in vain."

When he left Kurdistan, Awara had hoped that a better destiny than that of his two brothers lay ahead.

The last thing on his mind was that all his dreams would prove to be in vain and that he would wake up to a reality no less  bitter than that he was running from in Kurdistan.

"I spent eight months on the trip from Kurdistan to get to Sweden, I suffered a lot and spent about $20,000," Awara said, "and now they want to end everything in four hours," referring to the flight from Sweden to Baghdad.

"I don't know what I am returning to in Kurdistan, I have nothing there, there is no life for me there."

By Raber Y. Aziz (raber.younis@gmail.com)