As the Syrian immigrant crisis continues to dominate international headlines, it has been reported that Sweden, who had initially welcomed the new arrivals, has now had a change of heart on its open door policy towards the refugees.
Published reports indicate that they are taking measures to expel at least 80,000 immigrants, which is equivalent to 45% of the people who have sought political asylum in the Scandanavian country.
Sweden, which is home to 9.8 million people, is one of the European Union countries that have taken in the largest number of refugees in relation to its population.
Reasons being offered for the expulsion are directly related to the high incidences of violent crime involving immigrants over the last year. Moreover, the Swedish government is concerned that its police force and resources are being stretched way too thin in terms of accommodating the influx of refugees and dealing with the constant violations of the law.
Swedish National Police Commissioner Dan Eliasson described the drastic spike in crime in Sweden citing reports from asylum centers. He said that criminal reports escalated from 148 in 2014 to 322 in 2015, an increase of 174 cases. He added that it would be absolutely necessary for the police force to expand to 4,100 employees in order to tamp down on the chaotic crime situation.
The most recent shocking incident occurred two weeks ago when 22-year-old Alexandra Mezher was brutally stabbed to death by an immigrant in Molndal. As an employee at the reception center, she was attempting to break up a physical altercation at the youth center. The BBC had reported that a 15-year old male was apprehended in the fatal assault.
Speaking to the BBC, Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said, "I believe that there are quite many people in Sweden who feel a lot of concern that there can be more cases of this kind, when Sweden receives so many children and youth, who come alone to seek asylum.”
Other European countries have also reported a drastic surge in crime since the arrival of the hordes of migrants from the Middle East and North Africa. Among these countries are Austria, Finland, France and Germany.
The nature of the crimes vary but the majority of them fall within the purview of violent sexual assaults committed by Muslim attackers. In addition, an increasing number of robberies have taken place.
Swedish Interior Minister Anders Ygeman said law enforcement officials who are in charge of overseeing the migrants have been given directives to begin organizing their expulsion. The expulsions will be implemented using especially charted aircraft.
The Guardian reported that Sweden is also approaching other EU countries, including Germany, to discuss cooperation to increase efficiency and make sure flights are filled to capacity.
While Eliasson welcomed the policy reversal, he said that is "comes too little, too late.''
He said, "We have to go to work against unrest in the asylum centers which places a much greater demand than might appear outwardly. In some places in Sweden this eats significant resources out of the police's capability. From several sources there are reports that staff are poorly prepared to handle violence, threats and conflicts while there are too few security guards."
"Police do not have the resources to handle all the disturbances at reception centers," he said.
In addition to Sweden’s decision to oust the criminal migrants, it was reported that Finland had intentions of expelling 20,000 or the 32,000 asylum seekers that it absorbed in 2015.
Speaking to the AFP news agency, Paivi Nerg, the administrative director of Finland’s interior ministry said: “In principle we speak of about two-thirds, meaning approximately 65 percent of the 32,000 will get a negative decision to their asylum application.”
Sweden’s expulsion is a clear message to refugees that they will no longer be laying out the welcome mat that it had been offering just several months ago.
Victor Harju, spokesperson for Swedish Interior Minister Anders Ygeman said, “Of course it is a way of saying that if you come here and don’t have a case for asylum, then you won’t be able to stay. You can seek asylum in Europe but there are a lot of safe countries where you won’t be troubled by war and persecution, so you don’t necessarily have to end up in Sweden.”
“If it stays at these levels we expect 45,000 applications in 2016 – still a very high number, but manageable,” Harju said.
Back in November Sweden started to introduce controls on their border to curtail the number of asylum seekers flooding the country, which was running at 10,000 each week. In January, it imposed restrictions on refugees who were crossing the bridge linking Sweden with Denmark unless they could produce a valid passport or driver’s licence.
Other Scandinavian countries are intensifying their attempts to let potential immigrants know in no uncertain terms that they are no longer an attractive destination. Several weeks ago Norway began to initiate deportation measures targeted at asylum seekers; sending them to Russia through the Arctic.
Denmark has taken international criticism for implementing a new law that would allow police to confiscate cash and valuables from refugees to help offset costs of their absorption.
As was reported in The Guardian, last year Sweden turned down some 20,000 asylum applicants, or 45% of those who had previously arrived and made claims. About 3,000 were deported with a further 7,000 who were handed over to police disappearing from the immigration system and avoiding expulsion.
The remaining 10,000 people whose applications were rejected left the country of their own accord, the justice ministry said.
The immigration ministry did say that the rate of refugee asylum approval may increase in 2016, as the record 160,000 who put in asylum requests in 2015 included more citizens of Afghanistan and Syria, for whom it is easier to obtain refugee status than for other groups.
The ministry added that immigrants from Syria had previously received an automatic right to permanent residency. This status was modified last year to that of temporary residency for up to three years. They added that the backlog of asylum applications in the system means it will take up to two years for all the cases to be decided among 2015 applicants.
Border police in Sweden have said that they are vigorously expanding their activities. Moreover, with plans of doubling the number of employees on their force in the next few years, they will be in a better position to efficiently cope with the sticky task of returning refused asylum seekers. They will also need to dispatch personnel to deal with the “significant risk” of people going underground to escape deportation, according to a report in the Guardian.