Refugee crisis: Sweden prepares to 'expel up to 80,000 asylum seekers'

Along with Germany, Sweden received the largest number of asylum seekers in 2015

Sweden is preparing to expel up to 80,000 asylum seekers who sought refuge in the country last year, according to its interior minister.

In an interview with Swedish newspaper Dagens Industri published today, Anders Ygeman said he estimated that about 60,000 to 80,000 of 2015’s record number of asylum seekers would be expelled and forcibly deported or would voluntarily leave after their applications were rejected.

It is feared by the government that many of those who will leave will go into hiding, according to the newspaper.

“We have a big challenge ahead of us. We will need to use more for this and we must have better cooperation between authorities,” Mr Ygemen was quoted as saying.

“I think that it could be about 60,000 people, but it could also be up to 80,000.”

The minister said the asylum seekers would be removed from the country by charter aircraft, but that the process would take many years.

His spokesman Victor Harju later confirmed Mr Ygemen’s estimate, adding that the minister was simply applying the current approval rate to the record number of asylum seekers that arrived in 2015 and that the “rate could of course change”.

This week, Sweden’s Prime Minister Stefan Lofven pledged more resources for the police to deal with the country’s refugees.  

The Scandinavian nation reversed its open doors-policy on immigration late last year and has since introduced border controls and identification checks to slow the flow of asylum seekers.

At the end of last year, Sweden's migration minister Morgan Johansson said: “We’re willing to do more than anyone else. But even we have our limits.

“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.

“Our whole asylum system would break down.”

Around 163,000 asylum applications were made in 2015 in Sweden, which, along with Germany, has been one of the top destinations for refugees and migrants entering the EU.

On Tuesday, 22-year-old Alexandra Mezher, a staff member at an asylum shelter for unaccompanied children near Gothenburg, was stabbed to death.

A 15-year-old asylum seeker was arrested on suspicion of murder.

Additional reporting by Reuters