Rights groups have criticised the Swedish government’s plans to expel up to 80,000 asylum seekers whose applications are expected to be rejected, a move viewed as the latest in a string of similar measures.
Speaking to the local Dagens Industry newspaper on Thursday, Swedish Interior Minister Anders Ygeman said that between 60,000 and 80,000 people will be deported.
An estimated 45 percent of Sweden’s more than 160,000 asylum applicants in 2015 are projected to be denied.
Ygeman said the deportations would be carried out over a span of several years, while the European Union Commission announced its support for Sweden’s announcement.
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Alia al-Ghussain, a senior researcher and advocate at the Malmo-based Centre for Refugee Solidarity, said the number “is quite shocking because they have not processed all of the applications and cannot be sure they will deport that many people”.
Among other countries, many of the asylum seekers expected to be rejected are from Eritrea, Somalia, Sudan and Palestinian refugees from across the map of the Middle East, al-Ghussain told Al Jazeera.
“The government’s categorisations of what areas are safe and which aren’t in many of these countries is not representative of reality at all.”
‘Dramatic turn of events’
“Obviously the policy towards asylum-seekers in Sweden has been worsening, but this seems like such a dramatic turn of events,” she said.
Judith Sunderland, associate director of Human Rights Watch’s Europe and Central Asia programme, said that Sweden’s announcement is “designed to discourage potential asylum seekers from seeing it as a destination”.
“What we’re seeing now is a total panic on the part of EU leaders,” she told Al Jazeera. “We’re seeing alarmist and very negative pronouncements on a daily basis.”
Sunderland, however, added that Sweden “has a very efficient and generous asylum system, comparatively. Clearly, the system is now overwhelmed”.
Sweden’s announcement comes on the heels of several heightened measures designed to stem the flow of refugees and migrants.
Sweden has recently tightened its borders, implemented stricter regulations for residency permits and started enforcing photo identification checks for travellers.
Nael Bitarie, who is from a Palestinian refugee camp in Syria, works on development and refugee integration programmes in Sweden.
Explaining that new measures like ID checks are motivated by genuine security concerns, he pointed out that “many people who need a safe place are denied it”.
In some situations, Sweden, like many other European countries, has rejected asylum applications on the grounds that certains part of the applicant’s country of origin are deemed safe despite ongoing conflict, such as Iraq’s Baghdad or Somalia’s Mogadishu.
“Until now, they say Baghdad is a safe area, but many people are killed and wounded in Baghdad regularly,” Bitarie told Al Jazeera. “In some cases, [asylum seekers] could lose their lives if deported back to these places.”
While speaking at World Economic Forum in Switzerland last week, Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said fellow EU member countries have failed to shoulder their responsibilities, putting Sweden in an “unsustainable” situation.
“We need to improve the European refugee policy toward the system that shares the responsibility for receiving refugees more even [sic] throughout Europe,” Lofven said.
Mais, 25, an asylum seeker who did not provide her last name for fear of relatives’ safety in Syria, explained that the asylum application period has become more difficult as the country continues to endure an influx of refugee arrivals.
“Here in Sweden, the residency procedure used to take up to six months, [but] now it takes up to two years,” she told Al Jazeera. “In the refugee camps, there are six to eight people in each room.”
Stricter measures by EU states and border closures across the Balkans, however, have done little to prevent refugees and migrants from arriving in Europe.
Since January 1, more than 54,000 refugees and migrants arrived in Europe by sea, according to the United Nations refugee agency.
Follow Patrick Strickland on Twitter: @P_Strickland_