Swedish authorities have asked police and the country’s migration agency to prepare expulsions of up to 80,000 refugees and migrants who arrived in 2015 and whose applications for asylum could be rejected.
“We are talking about 60,000 people, but the number could climb to 80,000,” Interior Minister Anders Ygeman told the Dagens Industri daily business newspaper on Thursday.
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More than 160,000 people sought asylum in Sweden last year. About 55 percent of applications are expected to be accepted.
In 2014, Sweden received half as many asylum seekers – 81,000. The same year, about 35,000 people were granted asylum.
Sweden, which is home to 9.8 million people, is one of the European Union countries that has taken in the largest number of refugees in relation to its population.
Among the asylum seekers were 51,000 Syrians, 41,500 Afghans and nearly 21,000 Iraqis.
The EU Commission said that it voiced support for Sweden’s announcement, with a spokesperson saying member states have an obligation to return people who lack grounds for asylum.
Natasha Bertaud told reporters that the EU should beware of giving an impression that the union has an “open door”, even for people without need for asylum.
Ygeman said that the expulsions – normally carried out using commercial flights – would have to be done using specially chartered aircraft, given the large numbers, staggered over several years.
The number of refugee arrivals has dropped dramatically since stricter rules for residence permits were announced and Sweden enacted systematic photo ID checks on travellers on January 4.
The latest developments come as Europe struggles to deal with a crisis that has seen tens of thousands of refugees arrive on Greek beaches, undeterred by cold, wintry conditions and deadly seas.
The United Nations says that more than 46,000 people have arrived in Greece so far this year, with more than 170 people killed making the dangerous crossing.
Overcrowded asylum centres
Swedish officials on Tuesday called for greater security at overcrowded asylum centres, a day after the fatal stabbing of an employee at a facility for unaccompanied refugee youths.
In neighbouring Denmark, meanwhile, the government this week approved legislation to seize the valuables of refugees to help pay for resettlement costs.