Asylum, religious manifestation and minority faiths: WH v Sweden

The Grand Chamber ECHR has announced what is, in effect, a friendly settlement in the case of WH v Sweden.

The applicant, a divorced Iraqi woman who had arrived in Sweden in 2007, applied for asylum in January 2008, explaining that she had left Iraq, where she and her family had suffered threats, because of the generally insecure situation for Mandaeans, the Gnostic religious group to which she belonged. The Mandaean community now lives largely in Iran, Syria and Jordan and in diaspora communities elsewhere, because the Iraqi community, which used to number some 60–70,000 people, collapsed and mostly relocated in the aftermath of the Iraq War. In October 2008 the Migration Board (Migrationsverket) rejected her application and ordered her return to Iraq on the grounds that the situation there did not constitute valid grounds for asylum. A subsequent appeal was rejected and she took her case to Strasbourg.

On 27 March 2014 the Fifth Section ECtHR concluded unanimously that her special situation as a single Mandaean woman “… would not prevent her from settling safely and reasonably in the Kurdistan Region” [78] and that the threats she alleged that she had received were not conclusive proof that if returned to Kurdistan she would be at risk of inhuman or degrading treatment as prohibited by Article 3 ECHR. Neither the general situation in Kurdistan nor her personal circumstances indicated the existence of such a risk; and her application was therefore dismissed. However, the Court further ruled that she should not be deported until the Chamber judgment became final or until further order. She appealed to the Grand Chamber.

In the interim, on 15 October 2014 Sweden granted her a permanent residence permit. The Migration Board found that the prevailing general security situation in Baghdad, coupled with the fact that she belonged to a religious minority and had no social network in Iraq, meant that she was in need of protection in Sweden. Following that decision, she submitted that she no longer wished to pursue her application before the ECtHR.

In WH v Sweden (striking out) [2015] ECHR 361 the Grand Chamber concluded that, in the circumstances, the matter had been resolved satisfactorily at the national level within the meaning of Article 37 §1(b) ECHR. It agreed, in effect, with the Swedish Government’s assertion [27] that the case should be struck out because, following the Migration Board’s decision of 15 October 2014, the applicant no longer faced a risk of being expelled to Iraq and that her application should in any case be declared inadmissible because she could no longer claim to be a victim. The applicant herself submitted that she had no objection to the Court striking out the case: “she had obtained what she was seeking when she applied to the Court and that, for her, the matter had finally been resolved” [28].

The Grand Chamber found no special circumstances regarding respect for human rights as defined in the Convention and its Protocols that required the continued examination of the case [29].

Cite this article as: Frank Cranmer, "Asylum, religious manifestation and minority faiths: WH v Sweden" in Law & Religion UK, 8 April 2015,

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