Swedish police started checking trains for migrants yesterday (12 November), imposing the first large-scale border controls in two decades, a move criticised by one opposition party as ending a tradition of openness and by others as being too little too late.
Officers waited at Hyllie station south of the city of Malmö, the first stop in Sweden on a route from Denmark, checked passengers’ papers and led about 50 people away in the space of one and a half hours.
The controls by a Nordic state that touts itself as a “humanitarian superpower” underscored how the flow of refugees into the European Union is straining its prized system of open internal borders close to breaking point.
Parents with toddlers and young children, some of them wrapped in blankets, waited by the track waiting to be processed.
“We take the ones who want asylum here in Sweden and get them to Malmö on buses,” said one police officer.
“The rest are sent back on trains to where they came from. If that’s Copenhagen, then that’s where we send them back to.”
Many of the migrants appeared reluctant to get off trains at first, but eventually obeyed the police, who carried standard-issue arms and wore bright yellow vests. No scuffles broke out.
The Centre Party, a member of the centre-right opposition alliance, has criticised the decision by centre-left Prime Minister Stefan Löfven, saying it ends an open-door tradition.
Other rightist parties have said the measures are not enough to help Sweden deal with up to 190,000 asylum seekers this year – double the previous record from the early 1990s.
Löfven said it was impossible to know whether border controls would lower the number of asylum seekers as that was only one of factor dictating the flow into Sweden.
“However, it is important that we get order at the borders so that we can control them,” he told local news agency TT.
Until Thursday, the half-hour ride over the Oresund Bridge separating Denmark and Sweden had no checks, under the European union’s border-free Schengen agreement.
At one point, police escorted 20 people, mostly men, from a train. The group was asked whether they sought asylum and after one refugee appeared to translate, most raised their hands. Five youths refused, saying they wanted to move on to Norway.
Sweden is expected to receive up to 190,000 asylum seekers in 2015, making it the country which accepts the highest number of asylum seekers per capita in Europe.
But despite of its tradition of openness to migrants, Sweden now says it can no longer guarantee housing for all.
Sweden is the latest EU and Schengen member to introduce temporary border controls. Germany, Austria and Slovenia already have border controls in place, while Denmark had border controls shortly in August.
Temporary border controls at the Schengen internal borders should not last longer than 2 months.