Sweden, Europe’s greatest benefactor toward Syrian refugees, is moving to tighten its borders as 2016 rolls in.
“We’re willing to do more than anyone else,” says Sweden’s migration minister. “But even we have our limits.”
Strained after the nation accepted more refugees per capita than any other European country, Sweden closed its open-door policy and is tamping down benefits to stymie the flood of migrants.
Asylum seekers who arrive in the new year will be allowed only to stay temporarily for one to three years as the government cuts off permanent residency, The Washington Post reported Wednesday.
Sweden took steps in November to ease the refugee flow, reverting its lax immigration policy to stem acceptance to no more than the minimum number required by the European Union.
Further, identity checks were put in place at its border, and stricter rules on bringing in family members were imposed.
“We’re willing to do more than anyone else,” Swedish Migration Minister Morgan Johansson told the Post. “But even we have our limits.”
The policies are a swift U-turn for a nation that previously boasted open borders for refugees fleeing their war-torn homes. After receiving 10,000 migrants a week in a country whose population is fewer than 10 million, the government became overwhelmed.
As the end of November neared, the Swedish Migration Agency could no longer shelter inflowing asylum seekers, forcing refugees to sleep on the streets for the first time in the agency’s history.
While the government has since expanded accommodations, Mikael Ribbenvik, director of operations for the Migration Agency, told the Post that 23,000 people are still sheltered in “substandard” housing, including tents.
Sweden saw a record number of refugees flowing into its border in 2015, with some estimates predicting that the number would hit 190,000 by the year’s end. The steep influx forced Johansson to urge migrants to seek asylum in the EU’s 27 other member states.
“We can handle the 160,000 people who came this year. But we can’t handle it if there are another 160,000 people next year,” Johansson told the Post. “Our whole asylum system would break down.”
Fears of a domino effect rippling across Europe are panning out, the Post reported, as Germany moves to stiffen its welcoming migration policies after accepting 1 million refugees this past year.
New border restrictions in Sweden go into effect in January, keeping refugees without proper identification in its neighbor-state Denmark, according to the Post. The parliamentary announcement pushed Denmark to mull imposing border checks on its border with Germany to alleviate its expected spike in asylum seekers.
Stefan Löfven, Sweden’s prime minister, criticized the EU last month for not helping place refugees evenly across member states.
“We are adapting Swedish legislation temporarily so that more people choose to seek asylum in other countries,” he said in a news conference. “We need respite.”