Sweden ends open door policy for asylum seekers

Newly-arrived refugees, Waija. Vasternorrland, October 2015. [atranswe/Flickr]

Stockholm wants to dramatically decrease the influx of asylum seekers coming into the country. Sweden will observe minimum standards for asylum policies under EU law and international rules, the government announced on Tuesday (24 November).

“It hurts that Sweden can’t receive asylum seekers at the high level we have done until today,” Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven told a news conference.

The high number of asylum seekers who every day arrive in Sweden is unsustainble, said Löfven. The left-wing government, consisting of the Social Democrats and the Environment Party (Miljöpartiet), has decided to change the rules for asylum seekers so that they are adjusted to fit the EU’s minimum standards.

>>Read: Poll: Swedish support for refugees falls

For example, only temporary residence permits will be given from now on, except for refugees accepted under the EU’s burden sharing quota. The government also wants to tighten rules for family reunification and the rights to receive benefits. Exceptions will be made only for children and their families who have already registered in Sweden.

Identity controls will likewise be carried out from now on, on buses and trains arriving from Denmark. The purpose is to increase the pressure on other EU countries and make them take a bigger responsibility for solving the refugee crisis, stressed the Swedish prime minister. However, he declined to say how many asylum seekers his country is expecting to receive in the coming years after Tuesday’s announcement.

“More people need to apply for asylum and be offered protection in other countries,” Löfven stated.

Sweden is expected to receive up to 190,000 asylum seekers in 2015, and the country, which accepts the highest number of asylum seekers per capita in Europe, has stated many times it can no longer guarantee housing for all. Despite changing governments, the country has kept an open door policy for refugees and migrants for decades.

Åsa Romson, Sweden’s Deputy Prime Minister (Miljöpartiet), who also took part in the news conference, was in tears during the announcement, stating that her party had always been known for welcoming refugees.

“To be honest, we have lately had some very tough debates in our party about what the reality looks like. The last couple of weeks, I have become convinced that the best way to help my colleagues in the municipalities would be to do something in this area,” she said.

The Swedish government is likely to receive support for its new stance on migration from the right-wing opposition parties. Anna Kinberg Batra, the leader of the Moderates, Sweden’s largest opposition party, has called for tighter immigration policies in the Scandinavian country. Kinberg Batra furthermore wants an extra rebate from the EU to make up for all the extra costs Sweden will incur in coming years due to the refugee crisis.

On 11 November, Sweden, a member of the borderless Schengen area, introduced temporary border controls. 

>>Read: Sweden to introduce temporary border controls

The new rules for asylum seekers immediately prompted neighbouring Norway, another Schengen member, to announce that the country will carry out border controls on all ferries coming from Sweden, Denmark and Germany, from Thursday morning (26 November).

“What Sweden is doing now is quickly going to have consequences for Norway,” Erna Solberg, Norway’s prime minister told the TV station NRK, “and therefore, I have asked the Minister for Justice to implement appropriate action.”

In Denmark, Inger Støjberg, the Minister for Migration, said she was particularly worried about the new Swedish measures of checking ID on buses and trains, as those who do not carry identification papers on them will be sent back to Denmark.

“I can guarantee that I’m keeping an eye on this development, with the goal to decrease the number of asylum seekers in Denmark,” she told the broadcaster DR.

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 Organisation 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, visa-free travel, and new accession talks if Ankara tries to stem the flow of refugees across its territory.

  • 29 November: EU-Turkey summit in Brussels on how to stem migration flows.

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