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Swedish Official Hates Her New Refugee Policy So Much She Is Literally Crying About It

Sweden is tightening its refugee policies, and its officials are already upset about it.

Moroccan refugees and migrants demonstrate as they wait to cross the Greece-Macedonia border near Idomeni on November 24, 2015. 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. Over 1,500 people are stuck on the border, mostly Iranians, Moroccans, Bangladeshis and Pakistanis. AFP PHOTO / SAKIS MITROLIDIS / AFP / SAKIS MITROLIDIS        (Photo credit should read SAKIS MITROLIDIS/AFP/Getty Images)
Moroccan refugees and migrants demonstrate as they wait to cross the Greece-Macedonia border near Idomeni on November 24, 2015. 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. Over 1,500 people are stuck on the border, mostly Iranians, Moroccans, Bangladeshis and Pakistanis. AFP PHOTO / SAKIS MITROLIDIS / AFP / SAKIS MITROLIDIS (Photo credit should read SAKIS MITROLIDIS/AFP/Getty Images)

This fall, disagreement over whether European Union member states should establish a quota system for refugees escalated so quickly that Hungary and Slovakia, who were opposed to the plan, threatened to bring the 28-nation bloc to court if they were forced to adopt the new measures. 

At the time, Sweden’s Social Democrat leaders couldn’t have felt more differently than their right-wing counterparts in Eastern Europe — they even said they would be happy to take in more refugees than they were being asked to accept.

But on Tuesday, just two months after Swedish Employment Minister Ylva Johansson said her country would take in refugees and improve its population demographics “with a smile,” Sweden is shutting its door to the thousands of refugees waiting to qualify for asylum there.

The announcement, which is a clear reversal of the policies Sweden has advertised for months, brought Deputy Prime Minister Asa Romson, a member of the Green Party, to tears at a news conference in Stockholm Tuesday.

Prime Minister Stefan Lofven, who addressed journalists alongside Romson, said that Sweden needed a “respite” from the tens of thousands of refugees asking for asylum there, and is moving forward with legislation that will impose tough new restrictions on refugees, reduce the number allowed into Sweden, and mandate stricter identity checks.

“It pains me that Sweden is no longer capable of receiving asylum seekers at the high level we do today,” he said. “We simply cannot do any more.”

Leonard Doyle, a spokesman for the International Organization for Migration, told Foreign Policy in a phone call Tuesday that the EU as a whole — and not Sweden as an individual country — deserved blame for Stockholm’s decision to tighten border restrictions and turn away refugees. Sweden, Doyle said, treats refugees better than many of its neighbors and, even with the new rules in place, won’t be “suddenly getting nasty on migrants.”

“They’ve been treating them well and integrating them. If they’re reaching capacity it’s because they’re the ones accepting them,” he said. “Some countries have taken tiny numbers and not gone through any strain.”

The announcement would have been unimaginable just a few months ago, when Swedish Migration and Justice Minister Morgan Johansson criticized other EU leaders for failing to recognize that Europe was obligated to respond to the refugee crisis in a humane, responsible way.  “Sometimes [you] have to do things you don’t want to do, just because the circumstances actually call for political leadership,” he said in September.

But that was when Sweden expected they would receive roughly 74,000 asylum applications this year. That estimate has more than doubled since then, with more than 10,000 refugees arriving in Sweden each week this fall, straining the country of 10 million’s limited resources. This month, refugees who arrived in the Swedish town of Malmo reportedly had to sleep on the street.  And as Sweden has grappled with a consistent flow of people who aren’t just passing through, but also plan to stay, their other countries in Europe have built fences and pushed back asylum-seekers and refugees, only adding to refugees’ desperation to arrive in places like Sweden and Germany that are more willing to accommodate their asylum requests.  

But now, even one of the most welcoming EU countries is forced to say “no more.”

The new, stricter Swedish asylum policy, will be in place for the next three years. Refugees who arrived in Sweden on their own, and not through the official EU relocation plan that distributed tens of thousands of refugees this fall, will receive temporary residence permits, but likely not asylum. 

“This is a terrible decision,” Romson reportedly admitted to reporters after the announcement.

But with anti-immigrant sentiment on the rise in both the United States and Europe, Sweden may not be the last country making decisions its own leaders may come to regret.

Photo Credit: SAKIS MITROLIDIS/AFP/Getty Images

Siobhán O’Grady is a freelance journalist working across sub-Saharan Africa. She previously worked as a staff writer at Foreign Policy. @siobhan_ogrady

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