Refugee crisis puts Sweden’s prime minister under pressure

Stefan Löfven

Stefan Löfven [Socialdemokraterna, 2014/Flickr]

A surge in the number of refugees arriving in Sweden over the past few years has led the conservative Moderates, the country’s biggest opposition party, to toughen its stance on immigration.

Over the weekend, the party presented an immigration package which includes six points on how to make Swedish policies stricter on the matter.

These include the introduction of temporary residence permits, speeding up asylum case decisions, accelerated deportation orders for rejected migrants, and a ban on begging. 

“We need to have control of our borders and the people who arrive, and we need to have a faster process in asylum cases,” said Anna Kinberg Batra, the leader of the Moderates, at a press briefing.

“I have begun an important evaluation of our migration and integration policies,” she added.

Sweden has had a liberal approach to immigration for decades, and is currently taking in 2,000 asylum seekers per day, which will cost the country an estimated €4 billion this year. 

A year ago, former premier Fredrik Reinfeldt, the previous leader of the Moderates, gave a now famous speech saying that Sweden should be a humanitarian superpower and asked the Swedes to “open their hearts” to the many refugees arriving in their country. 

>>Read: Swedish tolerance questioned as attacks on migrants rise

But Reinfeldt eventually lost the general election in September 2015, as he refused to govern with the support of the nationalist Sweden Democrats.

The fall of the ‘December agreement’

In December, the new centre-left government, led by the Social Democrats, and the centre-right opposition parties, agreed to keep the Sweden Democrats out of influence by promising to not vote down a minority government’s annual financial budget until 2022. 

However, the Sweden Democrats have only grown stronger since, with some polls suggesting that it is now the biggest party in parliament.

>>Read: Poll: Far-right now biggest in Sweden

Though the government and opposition parties have previously agreed on migration issues, they have differed profoundly on many other issues, such as tax policies.

Two weeks ago, this led the Christian Democrats, which is part of the opposion, to break the ‘December agreement’ and the other opposition parties followed suit shortly after. 

At the migration summit for EU leaders in Brussels on Thursday (15 October), Prime Minister Stefan Löfven, appeared upset when answering questions by journalists about migration. 

“A year ago, it was impossible to talk about quotas and relocation, but now we have a relocation systems and other countries will have to step up there efforts. They need to take responsibility like Sweden has done. Or else we will also stop doing that. I’m going to be very clear on this. Now it’s serious. We do what we can, but we should not be doing everything,” he said.

Löfven is due to present his 2016 financial budget by November. If he fails to get one or more centre-right parties behind his budget, it’s likely that he will have to call an early general election.

On Tuesday morning (20 October) a fire destroyed centre for asylum seekers north of Gothenburg. This is the 10th time this year. The police suspect that the centres have been deliberately set on fire. 

The European Union has agreed on a plan, resisted by Hungary and several other ex-Communist members of the bloc, to share out 120,000 refugees among its members, a small proportion of the 700,000 refugees the International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates will reach Europe's borders from the Middle East, Africa and Asia this year.

The EU is also courting Turkey with the promise of money, via free travel, and new accession talks if Ankara tries to stem the flow of refugees across its territory.

  • September 2018: Next general elections in Sweden.

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