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Swedish PM: ‘Tear gas, attacks – that is not my Europe’

Despite a growing backlash at home, Sweden’s Prime Minister Stefan Lofven defends his country’s immigration policies.

As Europe’s refugee crisis continues to intensify, EU member states remain divided over how to respond to the growing number of people arriving from war-torn countries like Syria and Afghanistan. 

Hungary’s right-wing government has faced international criticism over recent clashes between Hungarian riot police and refugees trying to enter the country from Serbia.

Tear gas and attacking individuals in that manner - that is not my Europe. That is not the European values, and certainly not saying - like the prime minister in Hungary did - that 'some are welcome but not Muslims'. That is not Europe. We need to stand up for the European values. Order on our borders, yes; control, yes; but people who are fleeing for their lives need to get into Europe and they have that right.

by Stefan Lofven, Swedish PM

Sweden has been one of the few European countries to take the opposite approach. Swedish immigration officials were deployed to train stations, meeting and greeting arriving refugees. 

Despite the fact that more than 10,000 people have been denied asylum in Sweden, many are still in the country, escaping deportation.

This is creating the picture of an open-door policy, and the numbers seem to back that up. No country in Europe is taking in more immigrants per capita than Sweden, not even Germany.

“It’s a moral principle and we are also obliged by international conventions and we stick to that. Every individual has the right to seek asylum in Sweden…. We cannot prevent people from getting a chance to seek asylum if they need it. We are not closing our borders for refugees … but we have to have control over our borders,” says Sweden’s prime minister.

But the policy has a downside: Many new arrivals are languishing in temporary housing, beggars and homeless live in the streets, and some neighbourhoods have seen an uptick in violent demonstrations – this is not the picture of Sweden that existed just a few years ago.

At the same time, there is another issue preoccupying the Swedes. Russia’s takeover of Crimea has reverberated in the region. Many people here now so worried about the Russians they are advocating giving up Sweden’s traditional non-alignment policy and instead joining NATO.

As many changes are sweeping across this part of northern Europe, Sweden’s Prime Minister Stefan Lofven talks to Al Jazeera about refugees, immigration policies, and other challenges facing his country and Europe.

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