Iraqi Ivan Sahda Moshi has been hiding at a friend’s house in Gothenburg, Sweden, since Dec. 1, 2017, as a decree has been issued by Sweden to forcibly return him to Iraq. “I hope that my case is looked over again this year,” Moshi told Al-Monitor. Moshi, who fled Iraq in 2007 seeking asylum in Sweden, belongs to a Christian family, all of whom have fled Iraq to different countries. He fears going back, as militias threatened to kill him due to his work with US forces, not to mention that Christians are a threatened minority in Iraq.
On Jan. 10, Abdul Bari Zebari, the head of parliament’s Foreign Relations Committee, indicated that the European Union is intending to forcibly return Iraqi immigrants whose asylum requests have been rejected back to Iraq. He called upon the Iraqi government to not accept any negotiations with the European Union concerning forcibly returning Iraqi immigrants, as he suggests that returning them should be voluntary, not compulsory.
In a similar case to Moshi’s, Hassan Amer, whose asylum request has been rejected by Austrian authorities, had to submit an appeal against his rejection before Vienna courts to obtain a new hearing session where he will talk about the circumstances on which he submitted his request for asylum.
Amer, which is a pseudonym as he is afraid that it would affect his asylum request, left Iraq in July 2015 using a fraudulent visa. The recent reports circulating throughout Iraqi media about the European Commission’s intention to forcibly return Iraqi immigrants has turned Amer’s life into a nightmare. “I’m not the only one whose asylum request was rejected by Austria. There are dozens like me, maybe more. I hope the reports are not accurate, and if it truly was, I’d hope these decisions are not taken into force,” he said.
The European Commission believes that stability has been restored to Iraq since its liberation from the Islamic State and that illegal immigrants and those whose asylum requests were rejected should return to Iraq.
In a video broadcast by Al Sharqiyya channel on Jan. 9, a group of young Iraqi asylum seekers wait desperately in Belgium for the approval for their asylum requests. Some of them had their requests rejected and the rest are waiting. Among them was a young man who submitted his asylum papers in 2014 and is still waiting for the decision.
Even though some of those who appeared in the video indicated that their asylum requests were rejected, they asserted that they did not want to go back to Iraq as “dozens of Iraqis whose asylum requests were rejected are sleeping in train stations in Brussels.”
Iraqi Deputy Minister of Migration and Displaced Jasser al-Attiyya refused forced returns of Iraqi immigrants. He told Al-Monitor, “The Iraqi government rejects forced returns, as we have understandings with some European countries concerning how necessary it is not to take any measures concerning forced returns.”
“In the beginning of 2017, a conference on immigrants was held in Finland where we refused any forced returns of Iraqi immigrants,” Attiyya said. According to Attiyya, the ministry has no statistics on the numbers of immigrants because some of them migrated outside the international registration system. He added that returning these immigrants would constitute a burden to Iraq, especially since some no longer have homes or jobs.
While confirming the Iraqi government’s refusal of forcibly returning Iraqis, Minister of Migration and Displaced Jassim Mohammed al-Jaff stressed the importance of the voluntary return of Iraqi immigrants in EU countries. Jaff reported that the chief of mission of the International Organization for Migration said in a meeting that the organization would look into a coordination mechanism with EU countries to prevent any forced return of Iraqi emigrants.
Mustafa al-Ammar, the integration representative of the Christian Democratic Union of Germany, told Al-Monitor, “There are no forced returns. The subject is still in the phase of discussion.”
The stance adopted by the Ministry of Migration and Displaced and the parliament’s External Affairs Committee is not in line with that of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. In September 2017, Abadi announced there were ongoing negotiations between his government and the EU concerning the return of Iraqi refugees from Europe. Even though he assured his refusal of forced returns, he said that “Iraqis found out that it’s difficult to be refugees in Europe.”
When he was head of the Iraqi government in 2006-2014, Nouri al-Maliki worked hard to encourage Iraqis in Europe to return to Iraq. However, he failed.
On Nov. 14, 2017, German media outlets reported that 8,000 Iraqis returned from Germany as part of the voluntary return program. The German government gave financial grants to those who decided to return. The financial grants reached $3,000, according to two refugees who spoke to Al-Monitor about their return.
According to the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees adopted in 1951, an asylum-seeker has the right to refuse going back to the country of habitual residence through invoking compelling reasons arising out of previous persecution.