BERLIN — Sweden, which has been one of Europe’s most welcoming nations for migrants in 2015, said Thursday it may expel up to 80,000 asylum seekers in coming years.
Interior Minister Anders Ygeman told Swedish newspaper Dagens Industri that any deportations would only apply to applicants who had their requests for asylum rejected, and not to refugees entering Sweden who meet the test for protection under international law. That category includes those fleeing war, persecution and other life-threatening events.
“I think that it could be about 60,000 people, but it could also be up to 80,000,” Ygeman said.
Sweden let in about 163,000 migrants in 2015. That is far less than more than 1 million admitted by Germany, but the highest in Europe on a per-capita basis. Sweden’s population is just under 10 million, while Germany’s is more than 80 million.
Nearly half of migrants absorbed by Germany have submitted asylum applications, according to Germany’s interior ministry. Many more are likely to apply. Those who have come from poor countries only in search of better economic opportunities are not eligible for asylum.
The German ministry said it could not estimate how many rejected asylum seekers would be expelled because rejection does not lead to automatic deportation. It said rejected applicants had legal options that could permit them to stay.
Germany has recently drafted laws that will make it easier to deport migrants found guilty of committing serious crimes such as murder and rape. The legislative moves followed allegations of mass sexual assaults on women on New Year’s Eve by crowds of men who police described as suspected recent migrants.
Ygeman said he reached the 80,000 expulsion figure by using the current rejection rate of 45% for 2015. In 2014, Sweden admitted about 81,000 migrants seeking asylum. About half of those will also be asked to leave, based on Sweden’s historical rejection rate.
The projections were confirmed to USA TODAY by Sweden’s ministry for justice and migration.
Jonatan Holst, press secretary to Morgan Johansson, Sweden’s Minister for Justiceand Migration, said 10,000 migrants voluntarily left Sweden last year, and another 3,000 were deported forcibly.
Recent polls show anti-immigration sentiment growing in Sweden and elsewhere in Europe. One reason is the cost: Sweden’s Migration Agency said housing and caring for all the newcomers is becoming increasingly problematic.
The number of asylum seekers also has increased dramatically in other Nordic countries. In Norway it rose from 10,702 in 2014 to 30,101 last year. Denmark saw its numbers rise from 14,046 to 18,505 for the same period. In Finland, there were 3,247 asylum applicants in 2014 vs. 30,625 in 2015.
The expulsion estimates from Sweden came as the Greek coast guard said 11 people, most of them children, died Thursday when a boat carrying them and other migrants from Turkey to Greece sank. At least seven people died doing the same crossing on Wednesday near the island of Kos. Nearly 200 have drowned in such crossings so far in January.
Some European countries have accused Greece of not doing enough to stem the flow of migrants crossing its territory. Greece, a major gateway to Europe, said it has asked for more help from the European Union but assistance has not arrived.