Sweden's Migration Board received a total of 11,743 applications for asylum last month, up from 6,619 in June and 8,066 in July, as an increasing number of refugees headed for the Nordic country over the summer.
“We would have to go back to the war in Bosnia in 1992-93 to find similar figures,” spokesman Anders Westerlund told the TT news agency on Thursday.
In its latest prognosis, the board estimated that around 74,000 asylum seekers would arrive in Sweden in 2015. The figure had then been cut from 90,000 suggested in February amid signs refugees had begun to shun the Nordic country as news spread about long processing times for applications.
But on Thursday Westerlund said that he believed the predicted number would be revised upwards again later this autumn.
“We have had an unexpected sharp flow from Turkey into Greece and then north through [the Former Yugoslav Republic of] Macedonia and Serbia into Hungary. We had not forecast that level of increase,” he said.
“We are seeing rising numbers throughout Europe right now and it is then only natural that our own numbers increase.”
The news came as media around the world published a heartbreaking picture of a three-year-old Syrian boy lying face down, dead, on a beach after being washed ashore in Turkey brought the horror of the refugee crisis home to Europe.
“It is good that the picture is being shown, the world needs to see what is happening,” Ali Al Refai, an asylum seeker from Syria who lives at a centre for refugees in Stockholm, told TT.
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Three-year-old Aylan Kurdi, who died on Wednesday after the boat he was on capsized on its way to Kos, Greece. Photo: AP Photo/DHA
Sweden's open borders have been strongly criticized by opposition groups in recent months. The nationalist Sweden Democrat party, which supports slashing immigration, is growing in popularity, with polls suggesting last month that it is now supported by at least 18 percent of voters, in contrast to the 12.9 percent it polled a year ago in the last general election.
However, charity groups and local organizations also report noting an increased willingness to help from many Swedes. When Stockholm's city council this week put out a Facebook appeal for volunteers to support refugee children arriving in the capital calls flooded in.
“I've got more than 600 emails in my mailbox. The desire to contribute is amazing. We have to find a way to channel all this dedication now,” council officer Ulrika Hällgren told the Dagens Nyheter newspaper on Wednesday.
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Cecilia Lindén helps collect clothes and other items for asylum seekers at the centre in Farsta on behalf of Facebook network Al Tadamon. She too reports an increase in donations.
“One man from Syria said 'my country is shooting at me, but this restores my faith in humanity,” she told TT.
Meanwhile, donors for the Swedish branch of Save the Children ('Rädda Barnen') doubled in May to August from the same period last year. And a spokesperson for the Red Cross told TT she had also noticed an increased commitment to help.
“People get in touch all the time. (…) We also notice great dedication among immigrants to help new arrivals. That's an important turning point because it hasn't really been like that before,” she said.
Donations are pouring in for the Al Tadamon network. Photo: Marcus Ericsson/TT
The number of migrants reaching the EU's borders reached nearly 340,000 during the first seven months of the year, up from 123,500 during the same period in 2014, according to the bloc's border agency Frontex. A total of 48,774 have so far applied for asylum in Sweden this year.
But at least 2,300 migrants have died at sea since January during attempts to reach Europe, almost invariably on overcrowded boats chartered by people smugglers.
Europe's interior and justice ministers are set to meet in Brussels on September 14th to hammer out measures to cope with the escalating crisis.