FECL 21 (December 1993/January 1994):


On 24 November, a dozen police officers raided the convent of the lutheran Sisiters of the Holy Spirit at Alsike near Uppsala. 9 Bangladeshians, 3 Palestinians and a deserter from Kosovo arrested during the operation have already been deported back to their home countries. The Sisters had publicly declared their convent a sanctuary for rejected asylum seekers fearing deportation.

The police raided the convent, as the Sisters were having their morning prayer in the chapel of the convent. Policemen smashed in doors and windows in order to arrest some of the terrorised refugees who had locked up themselves in their rooms. According to the Sisters, some 40 refugees, including 15 children were present in the convent. The group consisted of asylum seekers from Syria, Lebanon, former Yugoslavia and Bangladesh. Most of them were forced into a tourist bus brought by the police and transported to Uppsala where they were detained pending their planned deportation.

The spectacular and rough police operation drew massive criticism from many quarters. The Minister responsible of Immigration, Mrs. Birgit Friggebo dissociated herself from the police's action, the national Police-chief regretted the violation of a religious site and claimed that he had not been informed of the operation and the district police responsible for the raid stressed that by seizing the clandestine rejected asylum seekers they had only executed the orders of the immigration board...

As a result of public criticism, part of the arrested refugees (mostly women and children) were allowed back to the convent pending a decision on their fate.

But 9 men from Bangladesh were forcibly returned to their home country on 27 november. According to witness reports they were immediately arrested and transferred to a court upon arrival at Dacca. Some of the men who all claim to be political persecutees are to be tried on criminal charges such as membership with a "terrorist organisation". One of the deportees, Mr. Gulam Mowla risks a death sentence.

According to the Alsike-Sisters, the Swedish Immigration Board (SIV) refused to grant asylum to Mr. Mowla despite warnings of the Swedish Embassy in Dacca that he faced persecution in case of deportation to Bangladesh.

In the meantime, four more refugees detained after the operation have been deported. Three of them are Palestinians and the fourth is a military pilot from Kosovo, who fled to Sweden upon receival of a mobilisation order of the Serbian armed forces.

The police raid must be seen as a consequence of the Swedish government's declared determination to effectively carry out deportations of rejected asylum seeekers. Since the beginning of this year, more than 10'000 Kosovo Albanians, many of them men liable to conscription, have been forcibly returned in spite of warnings of the UNHCR. As late as 2 december this agency underlined that "Kosovo Albanians refusing to serve in the Serbian armed forces on the grounds of conscience should be considered valid and legitimate, unless proven otherwise" and that "UNHCR highly welcomes policies of non return on humanitarian grounds for Kosovo Albanians".



Sources: Sister Marianne Nordström, Helgeandsystrarna, Alsike Kloster, S-74100 Knivsta; Tel: +46/18 383002; Fax: +46/18 383165; UNHCR's position regarding draft evaders and deserters from former Yugoslavia, UNHCR-Geneva, 2.12.93.