Saturday, December 01, 2007

Sweden's Iraqi Refugee Trafficking Business

Here is an investigative report on the multi-million dollar Iraqi refugee trafficking business that was aired on a Swedish radio station and translated by the Assyrian International News Agency. Thousands of Iraqis, mostly from Syria and Jordan, but also from Iraq, pay smugglers about 10-15 thousand dollars to get them to Sweden, where they apply for asylum and then bring their family members (nine out of ten Iraqi applicants receive asylum). Many of my friends and relatives have taken that route out of desperation despite the high risk of fraud and it was something we also considered for my brother Nabil this year. I know some people in Iraq and Jordan who are trying to save enough money to make the same arduous trip across Europe.

Some excerpts:

"In Damascus we meet Mikhael yet again. He is waiting for information about how the trip will be arranged. He has come up with the money by selling everything that he owned and had. To him -- as to most others -- there is no way back. When we meet him again he has just had contact with yet another smuggler who transports people between Turkey and Greece, hidden in an UN truck. -- That is where Mikhael will be hidden in a large wooden box together with 8 others.

He said that I have to pay him seven thousand dollars for it, and he said that he only takes seven to eight people every time. They will put them in a box, cover it, and make a small hole in the box in order to let air in so that one can breathe. Then they will put the box in the middle of the truck. Even if they stop the truck they would not discover the box, since it is in the middle of the truck platform. It is a truck which will bring things for the UN, from Turkey to Greece, and from Greece to Turkey."


"A man we met our first night in Damascus has decided to bring all his family with him on the journey. He does not dare to leave his wife and his children -- three and five years old. He has already bought the trip -- they will climb down inside the tank of a tanker with about forty other men, women and children. There they will hide during the journey over the mountains between Turkey and Greece, a trip which takes 24 hours. He has shifty eyes when I wonder how he will make a small three-year-old be quiet inside the steel tank for twenty four hours. He quietly says that it has to work, this is the only way out, because here in Damascus the money is running out, everything only gets more and more expensive."


"Another refugee, Mohammed, is a Sunni Muslim and was threatened to death by Mujahideen, the Islamic militia in his home district of Dora in Baghdad. He does not dare to meet us in public, so we meet in a lumber room behind a café. Five times Mohammed has tried to escape to Europe, but has been left by the smugglers on the road between Turkey and Greece.

He has had the maximum of bad luck. Three times he has been left at the border and been arrested. Twice he succeeded in passing the border, but the promised truck did not show up. No trucks came. He had been deceived by the smugglers. They had bluffed. Every time he was arrested he had to spend ten days in custody. Every time he lied, and said that he was a Palestinian. Had he said the truth, that he was an Iraqi, he would have been deported.

Now Mohammed tries to earn money for yet another trip, but it is hard because the prices are increasing all the time. There is no guarantee that he will not be deceived once again, because deceiving desperate refugees has also become a business. We meet many -- both in Damascus and in Sweden -- who have been deceived by smugglers, or people claiming to be smugglers, into paying large sums of money."