A record 4,542 asylum seekers withdrew their applications and left Sweden in the first eight months of 2016 as a result of long processing times, strict new rules on family reunion, and payouts to migrants who voluntarily returned to their country of origin.
There were also less than half as many new claims made between January and August 2016, as in the same period of 2015.
Sweden used to be one of Europe’s most popular destinations for migrants, with the number of asylum applications doubling between 2014 and 2015 to more than 160,000.
A high success rate – 55 per cent of claims were accepted in 2015 – combined with generous welfare benefits for asylum seekers, and a comparatively welcoming population, made the country extremely popular with people fleeing war and persecution, and left the Scandinavian nation with the second highest number of refugees per capita in Europe.
But for many asylum seekers who arrived during the influx last year, Sweden has proved less of a utopia than they hoped. Many faced a long, cold winter in political limbo, camped out in makeshift accomodation while the state struggled to cope with the large number of new claims. Less than 500 of the 160,000 arrivals have managed to secure jobs.
Concerned about the strain placed on the economy of the country, which was expected to spend about one per cent of its GDP on asylum seekers in 2016, the Swedish Migration Agency, a government department responsible for processing claims, introduced tougher rules at the start of 2016, designed to deter and keep out asylum seekers.
New border controls were brought in, as were stricter rules surrounding family reunion. Housing was withdrawn for failed asylum seekers and plans announced to expand immigration detention.
The Swedish public also appear to be have become more hostile to migrants.
A survey released in February showed immigration was the main concern for 40 per cent of Swedes, above worries about failing schools, joblessness and welfare. The change was the biggest opinion swing in the poll's history.
“Most Swedes are not racist,” said Ylva Johansson, the Minister for Employment and Integration. “But when there is this special asylum housing when they cannot work, and cannot be part of society this is really a tension. This is a dangerous situation; we have a lot of people in no-man's land ... living outside society.”
As a consequence of the change in rules and attitude, the Migration Agency is now predicting just 60,000 new asylum claims overall in 2016, and has revised its estimate of how much money it will need to accomodate asylum seekers to £4.8 billion less than was originally estimated.
As well as detering new claimants, the situation has encouraged a greater number of asylum seekers to take the government up on a scheme which has been in place since the start of 2013: offering grants of up to 30,000 Kronor (£3,500) to individuals and 75,000 Kronor (£8,600) to families who return to their country of origin voluntarily. The money is only handed out after the individual or family has left Sweden.
“We are getting signals that asylum seekers are tiring of long processing times and that things have not turned out as they expected in Sweden,” Kristina Ränner, a Migration Agency expert told local media.
As long as people drowning in the Mediterannean then enough isn’t being done
The situation has changed so much the number of people from Iraq who cancelled their asylum applications in 2016 (1,366) is actually greater than the number of new claims from Iraqi asylum seekers (1,243).
A similar trend can be seen among Afghans. Statistics show only 18 per cent of Afghans are likely to have their asylum applications approved, so many are choosing to leave of their own accord. In all, 500 people from Afghanistan have withdrawn their applications so far in 2016.
“The climate here in Sweden has toughened considerably. That leads to a new kind of decision,” added Ms Ränner.
Sweden's statistics, however, have to be viewed in the context of less refugees entering Europe overall in 2016 than in 2015. The Balkan route has essentially been closed off by the EU-Turkey deal, which forces migrants to return to Turkey unless they want to claim asylum in Greece, which would stop them travelling onwards to countries in northern Europe.
2016 has been the deadliest year so far for refugees trying to reach Europe, aid workers have said, telling The Independent in July they are frustrated at moves within the EU to keep more refugees out and to block off entry routes without providing safe legal alternatives.
Refugee crisis - in pictures
Refugee crisis - in pictures
A child looks through the fence at the Moria detention camp for migrants and refugees at the island of Lesbos on May 24, 2016.
Ahmad Zarour, 32, from Syria, reacts after his rescue by MOAS (Migrant Offshore Aid Station) while attempting to reach the Greek island of Agathonisi, Dodecanese, southeastern Agean Sea
Syrian migrants holding life vests gather onto a pebble beach in the Yesil liman district of Canakkale, northwestern Turkey, after being stopped by Turkish police in their attempt to reach the Greek island of Lesbos on 29 January 2016.
Refugees flash the 'V for victory' sign during a demonstration as they block the Greek-Macedonian border
Migrants have been braving sub zero temperatures as they cross the border from Macedonia into Serbia.
A sinking boat is seen behind a Turkish gendarme off the coast of Canakkale's Bademli district on January 30, 2016. At least 33 migrants drowned on January 30 when their boat sank in the Aegean Sea while trying to cross from Turkey to Greece.
A general view of a shelter for migrants inside a hangar of the former Tempelhof airport in Berlin, Germany
Refugees protest behind a fence against restrictions limiting passage at the Greek-Macedonian border, near Gevgelija. Since last week, Macedonia has restricted passage to northern Europe to only Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans who are considered war refugees. All other nationalities are deemed economic migrants and told to turn back. Macedonia has finished building a fence on its frontier with Greece becoming the latest country in Europe to build a border barrier aimed at checking the flow of refugees
A father and his child wait after being caught by Turkish gendarme on 27 January 2016 at Canakkale's Kucukkuyu district
Migrants make hand signals as they arrive into the southern Spanish port of Malaga on 27 January, 2016 after an inflatable boat carrying 55 Africans, seven of them women and six chidren, was rescued by the Spanish coast guard off the Spanish coast.
A refugee holds two children as dozens arrive on an overcrowded boat on the Greek island of Lesbos
A child, covered by emergency blankets, reacts as she arrives, with other refugees and migrants, on the Greek island of Lesbos, At least five migrants including three children, died after four boats sank between Turkey and Greece, as rescue workers searched the sea for dozens more, the Greek coastguard said
Migrants wait under outside the Moria registration camp on the Lesbos. Over 400,000 people have landed on Greek islands from neighbouring Turkey since the beginning of the year
The bodies of Christian refugees are buried separately from Muslim refugees at the Agios Panteleimonas cemetery in Mytilene, Lesbos
Macedonian police officers control a crowd of refugees as they prepare to enter a camp after crossing the Greek border into Macedonia near Gevgelija
A refugee tries to force the entry to a camp as Macedonian police officers control a crowd after crossing the Greek border into Macedonia near Gevgelija
Refugees are seen aboard a Turkish fishing boat as they arrive on the Greek island of Lesbos after crossing a part of the Aegean Sea from the Turkish coast to Lesbos
An elderly woman sings a lullaby to baby on a beach after arriving with other refugees on the Greek island of Lesbos after crossing the Aegean sea from Turkey
A man collapses as refugees make land from an overloaded rubber dinghy after crossing the Aegean see from Turkey, at the island of Lesbos
A girl reacts as refugees arrive by boat on the Greek island of Lesbos after crossing the Aegean sea from Turkey
Refugees make a show of hands as they queue after crossing the Greek border into Macedonia near Gevgelija
People help a wheelchair user board a train with others, heading towards Serbia, at the transit camp for refugees near the southern Macedonian town of Gevgelija
Refugees board a train, after crossing the Greek-Macedonian border, near Gevgelija. Macedonia is a key transit country in the Balkans migration route into the EU, with thousands of asylum seekers - many of them from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia - entering the country every day
An aerial picture shows the "New Jungle" refugee camp where some 3,500 people live while they attempt to enter Britain, near the port of Calais, northern France
A Syrian girl reacts as she helped by a volunteer upon her arrival from Turkey on the Greek island of Lesbos, after having crossed the Aegean Sea
Refugees arrive by boat on the Greek island of Lesbos after crossing the Aegean sea from Turkey
Beds ready for use for migrants and refugees are prepared at a processing center on January 27, 2016 in Passau, Germany. The flow of migrants arriving in Passau has dropped to between 500 and 1,000 per day, down significantly from last November, when in the same region up to 6,000 migrants were arriving daily.
“I think as long as people drowning in the Mediterannean then enough isn’t being done,” said Dr Erna Rijnierse, a doctor from Médecins Sans Frontières.
“Everyone has an opinion on how to keep these people out of Europe but no one has an opinion on where they are coming from or why they are running away.
“These people have good reasons for coming, they are risking their lives.”
The Office for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights warned physical and legal barriers to migration were “no match” for human trafficking
Maria Grazia Giammarinaro said criminalising refugees made people fleeing conflict, persecution and extreme poverty easy prey.
“Some countries have adopted restrictive approaches, which exacerbated vulnerabilities of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers to human trafficking,” she said.