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Sweden's deal with Turkey to enter NATO stirs concern in Kurdish community

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

So far, the big headline out of this week's NATO summit is that Turkey has dropped its objections to Sweden joining the alliance. Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, had complained that Sweden was not doing enough to clamp down on groups that he views as terrorists, namely members of the Kurdistan Workers Party, the PKK. That's a group that's waged a decadeslong insurgency in Turkey. We're going to hear reaction now from Miran Kakaee, an immigration attorney in Sweden. He works closely with the Kurdish community and is himself of Kurdish descent. Mr. Kakaee, welcome.

MIRAN KAKAEE: Thank you.

KELLY: So what is your reaction to yesterday's big news?

KAKAEE: Well, most of the clients I represent are undocumented migrants and asylum seekers. So when I read the news about yesterday's deal between Turkey and Sweden, I immediately was concerned, of course, for my clients. Many are asking whether or not this deal will affect their cases with the Migration Board, and I think it's a valid concern. We've seen cases of...

KELLY: And explain why. Why would their cases become complicated by Sweden's joining NATO?

KAKAEE: Well, Sweden has pledged to pay more attention, basically, to so-called PKK-related security issues in their trilateral memorandum. But also yesterday...

KELLY: The trilateral memorandum - this was signed - what? - about a year ago. Go on.

KAKAEE: Exactly. What that means is that in cases of migration and asylum procedures, the Swedish intelligence agency will increasingly get involved in cases and applications in which the applicant is a Kurd from Turkey. This could lead to applicants getting their applications rejected on the basis that the Swedish Security Agency submits statements saying that the person is classified and labeled as security threats.

KELLY: I mean, just to fill in a little bit of context here, Sweden has for years made a point of publicly standing in solidarity with Kurdish immigrants to Sweden and with that community. Is your fear - is what I'm hearing you say that in trying to respond to Turkey's demands, in trying to advance the application to join NATO - is your fear that Sweden has perhaps made too many concessions?

KAKAEE: Absolutely I think they have. Sweden has a longstanding tradition of giving international protection to Kurdish refugees, my parents included, during the '80s and '90s. And I think we're starting to see a shift and an acceleration in the amount of cases in which people are being deported by Swedish authorities.

KELLY: So has your phone been ringing off the hook since yesterday?

KAKAEE: It has. A lot of clients are asking me questions about the deal, asking how this will affect their case. They've been asking me, should I participate in Nowruz, which is the annual Kurdish New Year celebration, because there might be political slogans, flags, etc. that could cause trouble in their asylum procedures. The fact is that Swedish intelligence agency and the migration board often reject claims for asylum based on participations in protests or political meetings, etc.

KELLY: You know, if President Erdogan were to join this call with us right now, he might note that the PKK is considered a terrorist group not just by Turkey but also by the European Union and the United States. There may be plenty of people who think Turkey is right to ask for help in battling what it sees as terrorism, especially when they're trying to vet a country that is trying to join, you know, the NATO alliance. How do you respond to that?

KAKAEE: The first thing we have to look at is the definition of terrorism and the definition of terrorist organizations. And, yes, PKK is formally classified as a terrorist organization. But we also know for a fact that Turkey has a very wide definition of terrorism and what a terrorist organization is. And the EU has it on its list. But we also know that the label has been contested by, for example, the Belgian highest court, and we know that there's a case in the EU court. So we have to have a discussion as well about the definition of the organization.

KELLY: That was Miran Kakaee, an immigration attorney in Sweden who works closely, as you heard, with the Kurdish community there. Thanks so much.

KAKAEE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michael Levitt
Michael Levitt is a news assistant for All Things Considered who is based in Atlanta, Georgia. He graduated from UCLA with a B.A. in Political Science. Before coming to NPR, Levitt worked in the solar energy industry and for the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, D.C. He has also travelled extensively in the Middle East and speaks Arabic.
Tinbete Ermyas
Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.