Sweden cuts 2016 refugee forecast by thousands

Sweden cuts 2016 refugee forecast by thousands
A Swedish migration authority office in Stockholm. Photo: Maja Suslin/TT
Swedish migration authority Migrationsverket has reduced its forecast for the number of people it expects to seek asylum in the country this year to 29,000.

That is down significantly from their previous July forecast which estimated that 34,500 would seek asylum in Sweden in 2016.

The migration authority has also cut its forecast for predicted asylum seekers in 2017 to 36,700. In July that forecast was 51,200.

The reduction is based on a trend in 2016 where the number of people seeking asylum in Sweden has been on a steady, low level month after month.

Sweden received a record 163,000 asylum requests in 2016, but this year it sees around 500 requests per week. A number of factors have likely impacted that change.

One is the EU deal with Turkey, which means refugees are returned from Greece to Turkey unless they want to apply for asylum in the EU country.

Another is the near-closure of the route through the west of the Balkan region, while the introduction of tightened border controls in EU countries (including ID checks and border controls in Sweden) may also have played a part.

“It is a combination of those things,” Migrationsverket deputy director Mikael Ribbenvik told news agency TT

Sweden introduced border controls on the Öresund Bridge between Sweden and Denmark in November 2015, before later introducing photo ID checks for all travellers on trains and ferries to Sweden in January 2016 (which have been sharply criticized by commuters between Copenhagen and Malmö).

EU rules state that countries in the passport-free Schengen zone can bring in border controls in exceptional circumstances for six-month periods at a time. A request to extend the controls was granted by the EU in May, meaning they now last until November 11th of this year.

Sweden has not yet stated whether it will look to keep the controls in place for another six month spell, but it is expected to comment on the matter in the coming weeks, and momentum seems to suggest the status quo will be maintained.

Last week Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven said that he believes the European Commission now has room to maneuver if it wants to allow another extension.

And Migrationsverket have said that they presume that the controls will continue.

“We can't speculate on political decisions. We are working with what the situation currently is. That’s the only thing we can assume,” Ribbenvik noted.

READ ALSO: Italy expects more migrants than ever before in 2016

Despite the number of people seeking asylum in Sweden going down, the country is still feeling the effects of coping with the large numbers who came during the peak period, not least in terms of the average waiting time for a decision to be reached on asylum requests.

That is due to increase to 12 months in 2017, and Migrationsverket expects the average will grow to as much as 15 months before the trend reverses. A change in direction is predicted from the second half of 2017 onwards.