Bosnian Croats Hide from Police in Swedish Churches
STOCKHOLM, Sweden (AP) _ Hundreds of Bosnian Croats fighting deportation have fled refugee centers and gone into hiding in churches and homes across Sweden, activists said Tuesday.
Sweden’s state Lutheran Church defied the government and told parishes to give sanctuary to the refugees. An estimated 300 to 400 refugees were hiding Tuesday, and another 2,000 were looking for a haven, said a church spokeswoman, Marianne Liander.
``We can give them a sanctuary, a place where they can be together and feel solidarity,″ said the Rev. Stefan Loefkvist, a priest in the southern town of Karlskrona.
The refugees are among about 5,000 the government has decided to deport because they hold passports from Croatia, a country Sweden considers safe.
But most actually came from Bosnia, obtaining Croatian passports illegally to escape the war. They fear they will be sent back to war-torn Bosnia if deported.
The Swedish Red Cross and church leaders have warned that the deportees may face discrimination in Croatia and could be forced to return to Bosnia, where their lives would be in danger.
Croatia has assured Sweden it will not send the refugees to Bosnia.
Immigration officials could not immediately be reached for comment on the hidings Tuesday, but activists and media reported that the deportation order was not being enforced by some local police.
Sweden has toughened its position on asylum-seekers since taking in tens of thousands of refugees in recent years. It is now second only to Germany among European countries offering haven to refugees, and fears have been raised that a nationalist backlash could occur.
To enforce the deportation order, Swedish authorities put 24 Bosnian Croat refugees on a bus last week and loaded it onto a ferry to Poland. From there it was driven to Zagreb, the Croatian capital.
Fearing more deportations, refugees last week began filtering out of the comfortable state-run refugee centers scattered around the country.