Once enthusiastic about accepting refugees from war-torn Syria, Swedish officials on Thursday defended their recent move to stem the flow of asylum-seekers into their country. At the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, they said that if other neighboring countries were willing to work cooperatively to accept as many refugees as they had, Europe could easily absorb millions of refugees every year — but that if they don’t, Europe’s decadesold union will be jeopardized.
At a press conference, Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven asserted that Sweden accepting 160,000 refugees last year made it the largest refuge country per capita in Europe, but he said “we found ourselves in a situation where it was unsustainable, and we had to take action to reduce the number of asylum applications.” He then urged other European countries to do more.
“We need to improve the European refugee policy toward the system that shares the responsibility for receiving refugees more even [sic] throughout Europe,” said Lofven, who heads the country’s center-left government. “My argument toward the countries that say they do not want to receive refugees is that if we cannot handle this as a European union, the European Union in itself is at risk.”
More than 1 million refugees came to Europe in 2015, according to the International Organization for Migration, with more than half coming from Syria. While EU officials have promoted overall refugee targets for the continent, officials in Central European countries like Austria, Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia have taken steps to toughen border controls and have suggested their countries do not want to permanently accept the influx of refugees fleeing from Syria. But Morgan Johansson, Sweden’s minister of justice and migration, said that Europe should have no problem absorbing far more refugees than it has.
“I think it is in a way a tragedy that we know that Europe as a continent could easily handle this task for a million, a million and a half or 2 million a year to Europe,” he said. “We are a continent of 500 million people, we could easily handle this task if we cooperated, if we met this as a union and not as individual member states.”
Lofven took umbrage at those who might criticize Sweden for trying to limit the influx into their country.
"We have taken by far the largest number of asylum-seekers, and all of a sudden we are accused of not showing responsibility,” he said. “The mistake here is — the fault is — that other countries did not take their responsibility, and that is why we end up in this situation.”