Why does Sweden want to expel Gaza refugees?

Palestinian refugees and their supporters defend their protest camp in Malmö from eviction.

Adriano Mérola Marotta

Seventy Palestinian refugees have been evicted from a camp formed in protest at how the Swedish authorities have denied them the right to asylum.

The camp had been deemed illegal by the local council in Malmö, a city in southern Sweden. After two weeks of threats, the camp was dismantled on Thursday morning last week.

Nine people were arrested and three shipping containers of personal possessions were confiscated by police.

The Palestinian refugees had traveled to Sweden from the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, Iraq, Libya and Saudi Arabia.

Their protest has been taking place outside the applications unit of the immigration authority in Malmö.

Despite attempts by the police to make their protest impossible, the refugees are determined to keep fighting for asylum.

The protest is continuing, albeit without tents or shelter. Temperatures are dropping daily in Malmö as the Nordic winter approaches.

“I will take down my tent, we will take down our camp,” said Aaed al-Shalabi, a Palestinian from Iraq and a founder of the camp. “But we will not leave until we have a resolution. Even if we have to stand here in the snow, we will not give up until we are given papers”

The protest camp started in early August.

More than 130 Palestinian refugees have taken part in it.


Until recently, the Swedish immigration authority regarded both Iraq and Gaza as “safe” destinations for deporting refugees.

The Swedish authorities had signalled they would only grant residency in exceptional circumstances — such as when there is an explicit threat to someone’s safety. Certain refugees from Gaza, such as Fatah members or those identifying themselves as gay or lesbian, get fast-tracked for approval. Others from Gaza are regularly denied residency.

Despite the evictions, the protest has proven effective.

More than half of the 60 Palestinians from Iraq who have taken part in the protests have received residency permits. They are hoping that further permits will be granted in the coming weeks.

The permits allow their recipients to work and study in Sweden.

Many of the Palestinians from Iraq are refugees who had previously fled to Syria. They then fled to Sweden after the civil war in Syria erupted.

The Swedish immigration authority has also made something of a U-turn by issuing a legal statement declaring Iraq unsafe for Palestinians.

“This is a great success and we are very happy,” Aaed al-Shalabi said. “It really shows you that protesting works. We are not done though. Most of us from Iraq are still waiting for answers. We will stay here until we all can stay in Sweden.”

“Gaza is not safe”

Unlike Palestinians from Iraq, the refugees from Gaza are still being denied permission to stay in Sweden.

Although a two-week hunger strike by refugees was called off in September following discussions between the Palestinian Authority’s representative in Sweden and the immigration authorities, little has changed for the refugees from Gaza.

Mahmoud Hamalawy, a refugee from Gaza who coordinated the hunger strike, has lived in Sweden for the past five years.

“What am I meant to do in Gaza?” he asked. “The occupation has left us with nothing. No jobs, nothing. All we do is wait for the next attack. I can’t go back there, not while the occupation continues. Gaza is not safe for us.”

Some Palestinians from the West Bank also took part in the hunger strike.

Fakhri Hamad, who hails from the city of Jenin, was one of them. He was taken aback by the behavior of the Swedish police. The way the authorities dismantled the tents reminded him of the brutality of the Israeli police and military.

“This is how they [Israeli forces] treat Palestinians when they are arresting someone,” Hamad said.

Several people needed medical treatment after assaults by the police, including one Palestinian whose head was trampled on after he fell over.

A 70-year-old woman was pushed to the ground.

Video shows the police removing protesters from the sit-in:

Standing wrapped in a duvet, Hamad said, “We will stay now until we win. We have no other choice. We have been here for over 60 days and we will not give up because they have taken our tents or covers. We decided to stay until the end, until they solve our problem and they give us the right to live like any human here in Sweden.”


Daniel Sestrajcic, a member of parliament with Sweden’s Left Party, has supported the protests. He was dragged out of a tent by police officers last week after he urged them to halt the eviction.

Sestrajcic has subsequently been charged with assaulting a police officer during the eviction.

He described the eviction as “an assault from the Swedish political establishment which forced police to evict stateless Palestinians from their peaceful protest.”

This is not the first time that Palestinians in Sweden have undertaken such protests.

Last year, a similar camp was erected in Gothenburg. Six months of protests — including a hunger strike — ensued.

As a result of that strike the authorities decided that people from Gaza may be granted asylum if they meet certain conditions, such as being a member of Fatah or a journalist critical of Hamas.

A protest is also currently taking place in Uppsala by Palestinians who are demanding asylum.

Although Sweden recognized the “State of Palestine” in 2014, it has refused to take robust action in defense of Palestinian rights.

“The recognition of Palestine proved pretty toothless as Sweden has failed to throw out the Israeli ambassador or spearhead the calls for a boycott of Israel,” Sestrajcic said. “These steps are necessary to dismantle the occupation.”

Sestrajcic argued that the Israeli authorities “need to lose economically and politically to force them into a genuine peace process.”

“Right now Sweden is allowing the occupation to continue,” he said. “And I think the [Swedish] government are cowards.”

Adriano Mérola Marotta is a Uruguayan-Swedish freelance writer. Twitter: @AdrianoMerola