22:31 GMT +317 February 2019
Listen Live

    Sweden Startled by Foreign Powers Spying on Refugees

    © Fotolia / Serkat Photography
    Get short URL
    Refugee and Migrant Crisis in Europe (161)
    0 911

    Earlier this week, a man was detained for spying on refugees from Tibet in Sweden. The arrest triggered an outcry among Swedish Tibetans, but also shed light on the problem of refugee-related espionage.

    The man who was arrested by the Swedish Security Service (SÄPO) is said to have spied on Sweden's Tibetan circles and handed over information to an intelligence officer acting on behalf of another state, which was not specified, the Swedish daily Sydsvenskan reported.

    The news of suspected espionage shocked Sweden's tiny Tibetan diaspora of 130 people. Nyima Sherlhokangsar, president of the Tibetan Community in Sweden, claimed China was behind the spying efforts, although she admitted herself that the connection was impossible to prove. Björn Jerdén, director of the Asia program at the Institute of International Affairs (UI), noted that the Chinese government is worried about ethnic groups starting what it sees as break-away movements, including those in Tibet, which has been under Chinese rule since 1951.

    "Who else would do it? But like I said, we have no evidence for it," Nyima Sherlhokangsar told Sydsvenskan.

    However, the problem goes deeper than this. According to international law expert Ove Bring, it is a common phenomenon that foreign countries keep tabs on their current or former citizens in Sweden, which mustn't be underestimated.

    SÄPO defines refugee espionage as "intelligence operations directed against opposition members, dissidents and other exiles, forcing them to live in fear for their own security or health and that of their relatives."

    "Generally, we can say that the countries engaged in refugee espionage spend extensive resources on this business," Nina Odermalm Schei, the head of SÄPO Press Department, told Swedish national broadcaster SVT.

    The phenomenon is far from new, and was first observed already in the 1980s, when people in connection with Saddam Hussein's government in Iraq were said to have mapped their former compatriots in Sweden. In January 2016, the Swedish Migration Board was reported to have hired interpreters faithful to the Eritrean government to handle asylum interviews with fellow Eritreans. Apart from recurrent refugee espionage suspicions, several Eritreans living in exile testified that they had been subjected to extortion by employees of the Eritrean embassy.

    In Sweden, espionage can lead to imprisonment for up four years. However, convictions are relatively uncommon. In 2013, a Burundian man was sentenced to eight months for spying on Rwandan dissidents in Sweden. In 2010, an Uighur man from western China was sentenced to one year and ten months for spying on his countrymen on China's behalf. In 1997, a Moroccan man was sentenced to eight months for spying on fellow Moroccans in Sweden.

    Additionally, at least ten foreign diplomats were expelled between 1995 and 2009 for pursuing refugee espionage, according to SÄPO. While embassy staff are covered by diplomatic immunity and cannot be prosecuted in Sweden, the government may expel them as personae non grata or "undesirable persons." However, the Foreign Ministry's basic policy is not to disclose on what grounds foreign diplomatic personnel are expelled and refrain from further commentary about personae non grata.


    Never miss a story again — sign up to our Telegram channel and we'll keep you up to speed!

    Refugee and Migrant Crisis in Europe (161)


    Sweden Keeps Eyes Peeled for Russian 'Spies'
    Number of Crimes Committed by Refugees in Sweden 'Very Small'
    refugees, espionage, Tibet, Scandinavia, Sweden