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24th Oct 2020

Refugee fears prompt Swedish border clampdown

  • Around 160,000 asylum seekers arrived in Sweden in 2015 (Photo: News Oresund)

Sweden on Monday (4 January) launched identity checks on its border with Denmark, in a move which unravels over 60 years of free travel between the two EU states.

The drastic measure comes in response to the inflow of asylum seekers who cross over from Denmark to Sweden. ID checks are also being required on ferries from Germany to Sweden, with Denmark now mulling additional controls with Germany.

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An estimated 160,000 people seeking international protection arrived in Sweden last year. With a total population of just under 10 million, Sweden has the highest number of refugees per capita in the EU.

Stockholm says it is unable to accommodate any more, although a senior government official told Swedish Radio that up 220 municipalities say they “can do more.”

The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) told Swedish media authorities not to impose ID checks on people entitled to asylum.

“There is a tremendous strain to be on the run and you can not expect that those who are entitled to asylum will also have the right documents with them from the beginning - it is quite impossible,” Mattias Axelsson, a spokesperson for UNHCR in northern Europe, told the Swedish news agency, TT.

But Swedish authorities have come under intense political pressure at home to stem the flow of people.

Anyone travelling from Denmark by train, bus or ferry, will now have to present photo identification before being allowed into Sweden.

Those without the proper paperwork will be denied entry. Some 150 guards from Securitas, a private security firm, are verifying IDs.

Direct rail from Kastrup to Sweden has also stopped in a move set to impact the thousands who commute daily across the Oresund bridge between the two countries.

Denmark's rail company, DSB, says passengers should expect half-hour delays in a direct commute which normally takes around 40 minutes.

DSB, along with other ferry and bus companies, will be required to pre-screen passengers for IDs or face possible fines by Swedish authorities.

DSB expects the new checks will cost it €1.2 million, a fee it may pass on to customers.

Sweden's state-owned train operator, SJ, said it would stop services to and from Denmark to avoid the identity checks.

"It's as if we are building a Berlin Wall here. We are going several steps back in time," the AFP quoted Michael Randropp, a spokesman for the local Kystbanen commuters' association, as saying.

But for his part, Per-Arne Andersson, a senior official at the Swedish Association of Local and Municipal Governments, told Swedish radio that Sweden is able to take in more refugees.

"There are 40 to 50 municipalities that are facing a crisis, but the other 200 to 220 municipalities say they can do more," he said.

Meanwhile, similar moves are being imposed elsewhere.

Danish prime minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen in his New Year speech said Denmark is considering border controls with Germany, the main destination state for asylum seekers, following the Swedish decision.

Finnish ship operator Finnlines is also requiring boarding passengers in Germany to present a valid passport, a photo ID card, visas, residence permits "or other equivalent documents", reports Finnish state media YLE.

"Finnlines will not carry on board its ships any person who does not have all the documents requested for entry,” noted the company in a statement before Christmas.

Norway in late December introduced a draft law to tighten asylum rules, which include turning back asylum seekers who have no visas. The bill is aimed at cracking down on the inflow of refugees from Sweden.

The Swedish border control with Denmark is the latest blow against the EU's cherished passport-free Schengen area, as member states scramble to manage unregulated asylum and refugee flows primarily from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

Germany in September also restored temporary border controls.

The German clampdown prompted neighbouring countries to impose similar checks at their own borders.

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Norway, a non-EU member of the passport-free Schengen area, plans to toughen immigration rules including turning back aslyum seekers from Sweden and other countries trying to enter without a visa.

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