STOCKHOLM - Swedish authorities on Friday said they did not consider the strife in Mogadishu to be an "armed conflict", and could therefore send asylum seekers back to the Somali capital.
"When you see the pictures on television you think, 'well, there must be an internal armed conflict there.' But according to Swedish law, that is not the case," said Dan Eliasson, the general director of the Swedish Migration Board.
The immigration agency's ruling, which came in connection with the rejection of a 20-year-old Mogadishu man's asylum application, means that asylum seekers from the Somali capital will now have to prove they are personally threatened in the city to be given Swedish residency.
At least 17 Somali civilians were killed in the latest fighting Thursday in Mogadishu, where Islamist militants have waged guerrilla warfare since they were defeated by Ethiopian and Somali forces early this year.
The deadly insurgency has forced an estimated 600,000 people to leave the city, according to the United Nations, prompting warnings of an unprecedented humanitarian disaster.
Sweden automatically grants asylum to anyone from an area in internal "armed conflict", but only considers that such a conflict exists when the situation is "more like your traditional civil war" where "rebellion forces have territorial control in a part of the city, the country or the region," Eliasson said.
"That is not the case in Mogadishu."
The immigration service also ruled last July that there was "no armed conflict in Iraq" on the same grounds, determining that Sweden could send Iraqi asylum seekers back to the war-torn country if they could not prove they would personally be threatened there.