The Swedish government imposed stricter border controls on Thursday to deal with the unprecedented arrival of refugees streaming across its borders.
The Nordic nation that touts itself as a “humanitarian superpower” has welcomed more asylum-seeking refugees per capita than any other EU country, and authorities forecast up to 190,000 people could arrive this year – double the previous record from the early 1990s.
“A record number of refugees are arriving in Sweden. The migration office is under strong pressure … and the police believe there is a threat against public order,” Interior Minister Anders Ygeman said.
The move came as European and African leaders met at a summit on the refugee crisis in Valletta on the island of Malta.
EU leaders on Thursday agreed to provide their African counterparts more than $2.2bn in emergency funds for economic development and to help curb chaotic migration across the Mediterranean.
More than 700,000 people have reached Europe via the Mediterranean Sea this year, and Sweden has been one of the most generous countries in accepting desperate refugees fleeing war in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and several African countries.
Earlier this week, the Swedish government called in the army to help the civilian administration, which has struggled to cope with the inflow of refugees. Recently more than 10,000 people have arrived on Swedish borders each week.
“We also want to introduce ID controls on passenger ferries because we need better control on who is actually on these boats – it’s both a question of sea safety but also of order in our refugee reception,” Ygeman said while attending the Malta summit.
Sweden’s border controls will primarily extend to the bridge across the Oresund strait separating Sweden and Denmark and ferry ports in the region. They will be imposed from Thursday for a period of 10 days and could be extended by 20-day periods.
Later Thursday, Sweden’s prime minister defended the decision on tougher border measures, saying it was no longer possible to properly police the country’s borders.
“When our authorities tell us we cannot guarantee the security and control of our borders, we need to listen,” Prime Minister Stefan Lofven told reporters.
With Europeans’ attention now gripped by more than half-a-million Syrians and others whose arrival has plunged the EU into crisis, memories have faded of the drowned Africans whose deaths in April prompted the Malta summit.