Swedish police said Wednesday they arrested 16 people overnight protesting the deportation of a group of Iraqis but that the plane carrying the failed asylum-seekers left for Bagdad as planned.
“Some 150 protestors opposed the deportation and blocked the way in and out” of the detention centre where the migrants were staying, police in the western region of Vaestra Goetaland said in a statement.
Officers had ordered the group to leave the area but “unfortunately a large number of the protestors refused to follow police orders”.
“Around 90 people were removed … 16 were arrested,” the statement added.
Some 15 protestors had also gathered at Gothenburg’s Landvetter airport, but “the plane to Bagdad left according to plan,” police said, explaining the decision to deport the Iraqis was taken by the Swedish Migration Board.
According to the local Goeteborgs Posten newspaper, some 15 Iraqis were onboard the plane.
At the airport, protestors yelled that no one was illegal and defended the right to asylum in Sweden.
“We are protesting against this horrible and unacceptable deportation,” a protestor identified only as Kim told the newspaper.
Sweden has come under fire from rights groups and the United Nations refugee agency for deporting Iraqis back to their homeland.
Last month, 26 people — 20 from Sweden and six from Denmark — were sent back to Iraq despite protests in both Vaestra Goetaland and near Stockholm.
Ahead of those deportations, human rights groups and the UN refugee agency UNHCR had called on the countries to rethink the move, insisting it was too dangerous to send the rejected asylum-seekers — reportedly some of them Christians and gays who risk persecution — back to Iraq.
Swedish authorities tightened asylum regulations in 2007, ruling that it was acceptable to return Iraqi citizens to their country.
The decision meant that Iraqis were no longer automatically granted asylum and each case has since then been determined on an individual basis.
Tens of thousands of Iraqis have fled the war in their country to resettle in Sweden, with official statistics showing 117,900 people born in Iraq lived in the Scandinavian country in 2009, up from 49,400 in 2000.