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Sweden: 3,000 asylum seekers face abhorrent discriminatory measures

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Geneva -Swedish migration authorities are exercising discriminatory measures against Palestinian asylum seekers in the country, said the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor in a statement expressing grave concern over the fate of about 3,000 Palestinian asylum seekers who's residence status in Sweden has been recently threatened.

About three months ago, Sweden's migration agency, Migrationsverket, began what akin to an organized campaign against Palestinian asylum seekers in the country. Without giving any logical explanations growing numbers of Palestinians, who committed no offences, have been denied their right to obtain new resident permits in Sweden or renew old ones that are close to expiring.

These unjustifiable practices violate international law by targeting Palestinian asylum seekers in particular, while the Immigration Department handles asylum applications from other nationalities without similar restrictions.

Since 8 January, Palestinian asylum seekers started a sit-in in front of the Swedish Immigration Department to protest the new procedures and demand that the authorities grant them their rights under relevant domestic, European and international laws and treat them equally just like the rest of their peers from other nationalities.

Palestinian activist in Sweden, Kanaan Hamad, told Euro-Med Monitor that the procedures included the expulsion of some asylum seekers from immigration houses (refugee residence) and cutting humanitarian aid, which would have provided a small amount of money to refugees to buy food. Such measures undermine the stability and safety of asylum seekers.

According to Hamad, the procedures do not target new asylum seekers only. Palestinians who have been living in the country for more than ten years face great difficulties in obtaining long-term legal residency. Sweden authorities grant them a one-year resident permit which makes them unable to integrate into society, find work, or obtain health and educational services, in addition to banning their exit from Sweden, which has made life more difficult for those who have fled areas of conflict and fighting.

According to information collected by Euro-Med Monitor, most of those affected by the Immigration Department’s decision are recent asylum applicants, temporary residence holders, and Palestinians from the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and the diaspora communities of the Gulf countries as well as Yemen and Libya, where those coming from these areas are directly rejected. Swedish migration authorities explicitly inform them that they do not want to recognize them as refugees, which leaves them without legal aid or integration, despite the authorities' acknowledging of the difficult conditions in the areas from which they came, especially the Gaza Strip. Swedish migration authorities state in their refusal letters that life is difficult in the coastal enclave economically and socially and the health sector is collapsing. Despite this, the authorities reject asylum applications of Gazans and ask them to return to the Gaza Strip and try to get a job and to start a family there.

Hamad stated that some Palestinian asylum-seekers have been on hunger strikes for 36 days to oppose the discriminatory measures against them, which poses a real threat to their lives, as happened with Ahmed Abu Al-Ata who suffers from serious complications as a result of his strike after Swedish authorities cut off his monthly pocket, expelled him from the immigration house and made him stay without any shelter or refuge.

He indicated that Swedish authorities deported some asylum seekers, but the airport refused to receive them due to their complicated legal circumstance, as they do not have legal residency or even passports. Hence, they remain in a legal limbo without permanent residence or a legal status.

Mohamed Emad, a legal researcher at the Euro-Med Monitor, said that the Swedish authorities' procedures to prevent the renewal and issuance of resident permits is a clear violation of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, especially Article 27 which states, "The Contracting States shall issue identity papers to any refugee in their territory who does not possess a valid travel document.” In addition to the policy of forcible deportation that contradicts Article 33, Paragraph 1 of the Convention, which states that “No Contracting State shall expel or return ("refouler") a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion."

Regarding the refugees' right to housing, food and financial aid, Emad explained that the Swedish authorities are obliged under international law to provide the humanitarian requirements for refugees, and this is confirmed by the asylum agreement, as it says: “The Contracting States shall accord to a refugee lawfully in their territory treatment as favourable as possible and, in any event, not less favourable than that accorded to aliens generally in the same circumstances, as regards the right to engage on his own account in agriculture, industry, handicrafts and commerce and to establish commercial and industrial companies."

Euro-Med Monitor warned that the Swedish authorities' continuation of such discriminatory actions against Palestinian asylum seekers will put the lives of said asylum seekers in danger, be it by depriving them of their basic rights, or returning them to unsafe areas from which they have fled, calling on the authorities to respect their contractual legal obligations, regularize the conditions of refugees and asylum seekers, enable them to integrate into society, and enjoy all basic rights guaranteed to them by international law, especially the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Refugee Convention and the International Covenants on Civil Rights, and other political, economic and social agreements.

Euro-Med Monitor called on the United Nations and the European Union to act quickly and seriously to put pressure on the Swedish authorities to ensure that asylum seekers and refugees in its territory have access to all their rights guaranteed according to international law, and to ensure the provision of basic services to them without discrimination on the basis of nationality, and to find specific mechanisms to force Swedish authorities to implement those decisions and not to repeat such practices against refugees and asylum seekers in the future.