More children than ever are travelling unaccompanied to Sweden and Anders Danielsson, the country’s migration board chief, has issued a heartfelt plea for Swedes to “all do the best we can” to help cope with the influx.
In an open letter on the agency’s website, he argues that there needs to be better cooperation between municipalities, local councils, police, and Sweden’s children’s ombudsman to help come up with creative solutions to quickly provide the children with safe homes.
“We have to solve this task…An extraordinary situation requires extraordinary solutions,” he said, admitting that the surge in arrivals had put pressure on officials.
Recent reports in the Swedish media have suggested that staff at many asylum processing centres are working long hours to deal with a backlog of cases. Swedish unions have also claimed that new, inexperienced staff brought in to help with the workload are struggling in their new roles.
Sweden welcomes more children than any other EU country, with around 12,000 expected to arrive in Sweden in 2015, without a parent, guardian or older sibling.
Last year, 7,049 children travelled solo to Sweden and sought asylum, an increase of more than 80 percent on 2013.
Sweden's Migration Minister Morgan Johansson said on Monday that changes to the way Sweden processes child refugees may need to be made in the longer term.
“This is not a problem that will go away. The wars in the world are still going on,” he said.
In the meantime, he said that the government had given extra money to municipalities to help them deal with rising numbers of asylum seekers and urged them to “prioritize” their resources.
“This emergency situation is one that the migration board and the municipalities can solve within the framework of their duties,” he said.
The cry for help from the Swedish Migration Agency comes just a day after the UN's High Commissioner for Refugees said that Sweden and Germany cannot continue to take in the majority of refugees seeking new lives in the EU.
In a high-profile interview with German newspaper Die Welt, Antonio Guterres called for other EU nations to play a greater role in helping asylum seekers who travel to Europe.
“It's not sustainable in the long term that just two countries with capable asylum structures, Germany and Sweden, take up the majority of refugees,” he said.
Sweden is also facing internal criticism for its open borders, as support grows for the Sweden Democrat party, which is calling for the country to dramatically limit immigration. The nationalist group is the third largest in the Swedish parliament after scoring 12.9 percent in Sweden's last general election in September 2014.
Centre-right opposition parties have also changed their rhetoric on asylum seekers in recent months, with several high-profile politicians suggesting that temporary rather than permanent residency permits should be offered to refugees.