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July 1994, Volume 1, Number 6

Sweden Attracts Illegal Immigrants from Baltic States

Over the past two years, about 870 refugees--many without passports or documents-- have arrived in Sweden by boat from Latvia, which is only 90 miles across the Baltic Sea. In early 1994, the Swedish government attempted to slow the flow of asylum-seekers by raising the penalty for smuggling aliens from six months to two years in prison. Sweden also donated nine retrofitted former coast guard patrol boats to the three Baltic countries, and helped train customs officers in Estonia.

Almost all of the boat refugees en route to Sweden come via Russia. Official Russian estimates are that more than 500,000 foreigners are awaiting onward passage. A Swedish immigration ministry spokesperson said that Sweden's liberal asylum laws and generous welfare system attract asylum-seekers. The Swedish government does not return asylum seekers to Afghanistan or Iraq, but does return those from Bangladesh. Sweden would like the Baltic states to improve border controls and sign the Geneva Convention on Refugees so that the Swedish government could return asylum-seekers.

The Nordic countries, the United States and Canada will give the Baltics and Belarus $1.5 million to support their efforts to prevent illegal immigration and assist refugees. The program includes assistance to Russian speakers in the Baltics who want to remigrate to Russia, and also for those who want to move to Latin America or other regions.

Greg Mcivor, "Trawler Seized as Sweden acts to block Baltic Refugee Route," The Guardian, June 9, 1994. "Boat carrying 48 Kurds and Bengalis intercepted off Sweden," Agence Press France, June 8, 1994. "Western Aid for refugees and to prevent illegal immigration, BNS News Agency, May 31, 1993.