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Asylum seeker drop in Sweden and Denmark

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Asylum seeker drop in Sweden and Denmark
Asylum seekers in Katrineholm, Sweden in February 2015. Photo: TT
08:51 CET+01:00
The number of people applying for asylum in Sweden was cut in half in January, compared to figures from September 2014, but the country remains set to experience record refugee arrivals throughout the year.
According to the Swedish Migration Board, 4,894 people sought asylum in Sweden in January compared to 9,976 at the start of last autumn.
 
Sweden became the first European country in 2013 to grant automatic residency to Syrian refugees and has since seen asylum requests rise to record levels, which are still expected to reach about 90,000 in 2015.
 
The country receives the highest number of refugees per capita in the EU and is second only to Germany as a destination for Syrians fleeing the Middle Eastern country's civil war.
 
Asylum applications over the border in Denmark have plunged even further after the country tightened its immigration laws last year to stem the influx of Syrian refugees, separate data released this week has shown.
 
In January, 626 people - around half of them from Syria - applied for asylum in the Scandinavian country compared with 3,150 in September, according to the Danish Immigration Service.
 
The Danish government said in September it would introduce a temporary, one-year residence permit for asylum seekers fleeing civil wars such as the Syrian conflict.
 
The new permit, which came into force this year, can be extended for another two years and does not allow family reunifications to be granted during the first year.
 
"I think one of the most crucial factors for how many people apply is the length of the asylum and the conditions for family reunification," the ruling Social Democratic party's spokesman on integration issues, Ole Haekkerup, told news agency Ritzau.
 
"This is where the government has made an effort," he added.
 
Denmark already had some of Europe's toughest immigration laws after governments between 2001 and 2011 relied on the support of the anti-immigrant Danish People's Party in parliament, in exchange for which the party was allowed to help shape migration policies.
 
Politicians in the country have previously expressed concern that asylum seekers who gain the right to live in Sweden could end up moving over the border.
 
"The many Syrians who are coming to Sweden as refugees will become Swedish citizens in a matter of a few years. And with the agreements we have among the Nordic nations, there is nothing to stop them from then immediately moving to Denmark – without a Danish residence permit – and receiving welfare benefits from day one. It is a big danger,” Søren Espersen of the Danish People’s Party told the Berlingske newspaper last September.  
 
Justice Minister Karen Hækkerup added that Denmark was prepared to act if a stream of new Swedish citizens creates a form of “welfare tourism” in Denmark. 
 
“I think I should be careful about what I, as a member of the Danish government, think about Sweden’s immigration policies, but I will say that the government would never allow something similar to happen here at home,” she told Berlingske. 
 
The number of migrants entering the entire EU nearly tripled in 2014 to 280,000 from to just over 100,000 the previous year, mainly due to the conflict in Syria, the bloc's border agency said on Wednesday.

While Sweden’s liberal attitude to accepting refugees has been praised by the UN, which has asked other European member states to share the burden with the Nordic nation, the country’s integration policies are in the spotlight.
 
Earlier this week it emerged that half of asylum seekers who were given residency in Sweden ten years ago and remained in the country were earning less than 13,000 kronor ($1570) a month. The average median wage in Sweden is 23,700 kronor a month ($2861).
 
One in three refugees were found to be receiving financial help from local authorities ten years after their arrival.
 
Olaf Åslund, Professor of Econoics and Director General of the Institute for Labour Market and Education Policy Evaluation (IFAU) told Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter which carried out the research:  “It's some kind of failure when so many people have difficulties getting into stable employment and becoming self-sufficient. This despite the fact that in many cases they have good qualifications and big ambitions….It is difficult to say how "responsibility cake” should be distributed [among] politicians, social services, we as citizens or the individuals themselves”.
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