Stockholm: Sweden intends to expel up to 80,000 failed asylum seekers, the interior minister said Wednesday, the latest move by EU states to tighten their borders in the face of the migrant crisis.
Interior Minister Anders Ygeman said the mass expulsions of people who arrived last year as part of a record influx of migrants would use specially chartered aircraft and be staggered over several years.
"We are talking about 60,000 people but the number could climb to 80,000," he was quoted saying by Swedish media, adding that police and migrant authorities have been tasked with organising the scheme.
Sweden, a country of 9.8 million, took in more than 160,000 asylum seekers in 2015, putting it among the European Union states with the highest proportion of refugees per capita.
More than one million people travelled to Europe last year — the majority of them refugees fleeing conflict in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan — in the continent's worst migration crisis since World War II.
Most cross by boat from Turkey to Greece and the UN says more than 46,000 people have washed up on the EU member's beaches so far this year, while 170 people died making the dangerous journey.
But, with the influx showing little sign of abating despite wintry conditions, many countries — including Austria, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, France — have tightened their asylum rules in a bid to discourage new arrivals.
Greece under fire
Reflecting the mounting tensions, Brussels on Wednesday blasted Greece's handling of the crisis and warned it could face border controls with the EU's passport-free Schengen zone if it does not protect the bloc's frontiers.
Greece is not the only country under fire – Denmark has faced heavy criticism after its lawmakers passed a bill this week allowing authorities to seize valuables from refugees in a bid to deter new arrivals.
Some have likened the move to the Nazis' confiscation of gold from Jews during the Holocaust, with Human Rights Watch denouncing the bill as "despicable".
Neighbouring Sweden has seen the number of new migrants entering the country fall since it brought in systematic photo ID checks on travellers on 4 January.
Concerns have been growing over conditions in overcrowded asylum facilities, however, and on Tuesday officials called for greater security the day after an employee at a refugee centre for unaccompanied youths was stabbed to death.
A young male allegedly attacked the 22-year-old employee, named by local media as Alexandra Mezher whose parents were from Lebanon, at a centre for youngsters in Molndal, near Gothenburg on Sweden's west coast.
Her death has led to questions about conditions inside some centres, with too few adults and employees to take care of children, many traumatised by war.
Some 40 to 50 municipalities are facing extreme difficulties in Sweden's biggest cities, according to local authority figures, while workers say many asylum facilities do not have enough resources to cope.
The number of threats and violent incidents at asylum facilities more than doubled from 148 incidents in 2014 to 322 last year, according to the Swedish Migration Agency.
National Police Commissioner Dan Eliasson has requested 4,100 additional officers and support staff to help counter terrorism, deport migrants and police asylum facilities.