Sweden raps ‘brutal’ Assyrian abductions

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Assyrians citizens during a sit-in for abducted Christians in Beirut, Lebanon on Thursday. Photo: TT
Sweden’s Foreign Minister Margot Wallström has slammed the abduction of Christians in Syria earlier this week and pledged to keep supporting communities affected by the ongoing fighting in the Middle East.

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Describing the overall situation in Syria and Iraq as “exceptionally serious” in a detailed statement on the violence in the region on Friday, Margot Wallström used the news release to condemn the latest abduction of at least 90 Assyrian Christians earlier this week from villages which had been under the control of Kurdish forces.

Referring to the Islamist extremist group known as Isis, IS or ISIL, she said: “The abduction of hundreds of Assyrians in Syria is yet another example of ISIL’s sheer brutality. Sweden condemns these crimes, and we are deeply concerned at what has happened. Many Assyrians have come to Sweden and found refuge here. ISIL’s actions in Syria and Iraq threaten a people with deep historical roots in the Middle East.”

The abducted Christians were part of Syria’s tiny Assyrian community, which is mostly based in Hasakeh province near the Turkish border.

There were just 30,000 Assyrians in Syria before the country’s conflict erupted in March 2011.

At that point Syria had an estimated total Christian population of around 1.2 million people. Pope Francis is one of the other global figures who has voiced fears the community could be decimated by mass emigration as a result of the conflict.

Control of Hasakeh is currently divided between Kurdish forces, who in some places patrol with regime troops, and Isis fighters.

“The brutality of ISIL strikes the civilian populations of Iraq and Syria indiscriminately. No one is safe: Sunnis, Shias, Kurds, Christians or other groups. Those who commit crimes such as genocide, crimes against humanity and other serious breaches of international law must be held to account,” added Wallström.

Since 2011, Sweden has already contributed more than SEK 1.3 billion in humanitarian support to Syria. This sum includes support to the UN, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent movement and other international organisations with access to the area.

Up to three hundred Swedes are believed to have travelled to Iraq and Syria to fight alongside Isis. Sweden has already announced that it is planning a military contribution to the training operation that has been established in northern Iraq as part of the coalition efforts to defeat the extremist group.

Sweden has taken in some 65,000 asylum seekers from Syria and is set to take in a record number of refugees in 2015. It is second only to Germany as a destination for Syrians fleeing the four-year war in their home country.

The rapid increase in asylum seekers is seen as one of the main factors behind the rise of the extreme right, with the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats becoming the third-largest party in elections in September.

In Friday’s statement Wallström argued that in the long term “only a political solution can put a stop to the conflict”.

“Sweden is working via the EU, and together with the Arab League, Turkey and other countries in the region to expedite a solution,” she added.