Baghdad (AsiaNews / Agencies) - Harsh criticism of the Swedish government by the United Nations Commission for Refugees after they forcibly returned five Iraqi Christians seeking asylum in Sweden. The five were part of a group of at least 20 people from Iraq. Thousands of Christians have sought a safe haven outside the borders after the massacre of 31 October in the Syrian Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation. According to unofficial sources the authorities justify the refusal by citing a situation of relative peace in the country.
"We have heard many stories of people fleeing their homes after receiving direct threats. Many new arrivals explain that they left Iraq for fear of an attack, after what happened on October 31, "says Melissa Fleming, spokeswoman for the UN body in Geneva.
"Some might take only a few things with him," adds Fleming. The deportation of the five Iraqi Christians took place a week after a suicide bomber, born in Iraq and resident in Great Britain, blew himself up in central Stockholm.
Al Qaeda has claimed responsibility for the massacre in Baghdad, and said that Christians are a legitimate target. Killings and other violent incidents have followed, and according to Fleming about a thousand families have fled Baghdad to the Nineveh province in search of relative security in the Kurdish area. The UN officials in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon say that a growing number of Iraqi Christians are coming, and asking for help. In Syria alone about 133 families - 300 people - have sought refugee status in November. In Jordan, the number of asylum applications from Iraq have doubled in a month. The UN says that the return from Sweden comes at a time when officials on the spot report a growing number of cases of attacks on Christians.