Paradise no more: the asylum-seekers want to leave Europe

Paradise no more: the asylum-seekers want to leave Europe
4 min read
26 January, 2016
Victimised and targeted, refugees are seeing the uncaring face of Europe as Nordic countries pull up the drawbridge and make life for asylum-seekers as difficult as possible inside.
Asylum seekers are finding northern Europe a cold, unforgiving place [AFP]
A few days ago, an Iraqi refugee in the Netherlands waiting for authorities to reach a decision on his delayed asylum application killed himself.

There have been several similar incidents and most involved asylum-seekers waiting for months in limbo despite promises by authorities to process their applications within twelve weeks.

In Nordic countries, things appear to be even more difficult. Refugees and asylum-seekers, who have been waiting for over a year in camps, have come under physical assault.

The suicide attempts by asylum-seekers reflects their desperation, but also their disillusionment with European countries they hoped would provide a safe haven. 

Last year, there were several suicide attempts recorded among refugees in Norway, where restrictions and assaults against asylum seekers take place, as they do elsewhere in Europe.

Going for gold

On Tuesday, the Danish parliament backed a controversial proposal to confiscate asylum-seekers' valuables to pay for their upkeep.

Many young asylum-seekers who had left their families thus feel northern European countries are anything but the liberal and accepting face of Europe they have been portrayed as.

According to a report issued in December by Sweden's immigration department the country saw 1,300 incidents including 230 suicide attempts and threats of suicide among refugees.

Thousands of asylum-seekers have gone into hiding after their requests were denied, hoping their fingerprints would disappear from the European Central Database.

"We don't know why we did not stay in Austria. Some of our friends live in better conditions there. But we followed everyone to Germany, then we were told Sweden is better," Souran and his friend Jawan told The New Arab.

Souran and his friend were blindsided by the restrictions on seeking refuge.

Even in Germany - initially one of the most welcoming countries to refugees in modern history - has resorted to reactionary measures. 

Asylum requests are taking too long to be processed. Some have even started measures to return to their home countries, when that is an option.

In Finland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark, more and more asylum-seekers want to return home.

Bitterly cold weather, harsh conditions in Scandinavian "detention camps", and lengthy bureaucratic hurdles have left them rejected and disappointed by their host countries.

Hassan, an Iraqi asylum-seeker, is one of them. He once thought Denmark a paradise, compared to his war-torn home country.
These countries now tell us directly or otherwise we don't want you here, but we can help you return [home].

Nevertheless, he has now decided to return to Iraq "at any cost".

Hassan lives in the first ever camp established by the Danish government.

"These countries now tell us directly or otherwise we don't want you here, but we can help you return [home]."

Meanwhile, right-wing anti-immigration groups and parties are known to "visit" asylum-seekers' camps looking for signs of trouble to use against the refugees.

Right-wing Nordic parties have long lobbied restrictions to immigration and refugees and many of these suggestions are now being undertaken by European governments.

All appear designed to make Europe an "unattractive" place for refugees.

According to an official from the Swedish immigration department, 668 people withdrew their asylum requests in December.

"The housing conditions, the long periods of waiting and the difficulty of reuniting with their families are among the direct causes," she told The New Arab.
The majority are Iraqis.

European parties are even lobbying government to withdraw from the 1951 Geneva Convention relating to the status of refugees.

Tricked by people smugglers

Things are not better in Finland, where a local television reported 3,000 asylum-seekers recently withdrew their requests, hoping to return home.

Mohammad, from Baghdad, says he escaped the country after refusing to join a militia.

"But returning to Baghdad is better than living without my wife and kids who I cannot support anymore after spending huge amounts on the journey here and the debts I accumulated on my way to Helsinki," he said.

Smugglers often trick asylum-seekers to come to Finland, saying it is the best destination because not many Syrians are going there. Up to 40 percent of 7,000 asylum requests being processed in Finland have since been withdrawn.

In Norway, the government even promised financial assistance for those agree to "voluntary repatriation".

In Denmark, the right-wing government has started reaping the fruits of its strict approach to asylum-seekers and refugees.

"The restrictions are shameful," a former candidate from the Danish The Alternative Party told The New Arab.

"[Integration Minister Inger] Stojberg and her party want the Danish to see all asylum-seekers as migrants who are coming to improve their economic conditions," she added.

Fortress Europe is clearly closing the drawbridge and the sign to refugees fleeing war is that they are not welcome, no doubt exasapating problems for aid workers in the Middle East.