Refugee crisis

Refugee centres packed as cold winter calls

Refugee centres packed as cold winter calls
Refugees in a sports hall in Sickla, Stockholm last month. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT
Sweden's refugee centres are reaching saturation point, the country's migration agency has warned, calling for gyms and disaster shelters to be used to accommodate the overflow before winter sets in.

With 1,500 asylum requests pouring in each day for the past few days, and hundreds more already waiting to be processed, the agency said it risked running out of beds by the end of the week.

“The situation is very tight. We're reviewing our accommodation capacity and looking for solutions. It could be gyms but it could also be evacuation facilities designed for natural disasters or other exceptional circumstances,” Pierre Karatzian, a spokesman for Sweden's Migration Agency, Migrationsverket, told news agency AFP on Wednesday.

The agency had approached several state departments about freeing up space to host refugees, including the prison service and the army, Karatzian added.

The situation has reached breaking point because more and more asylum seekers remain in refugee shelters even after being given residency in Sweden.

Migrationsverket called on local authorities to step up with offers of shelter for those whose applications had been favourably received.

“Swedish municipalities must now find accommodation for all the people who have been given asylum but haven't yet had the chance to start a new life on the national territory,” the agency's director general, Anders Danielsson, said.

Sweden's migration minister said last month that that refugees could be put up in empty prisons.

Prime Minister Stefan Löfven this week met with local municipalities to discuss the crisis.

Nearly 8,000 migrants lodged asylum requests in Sweden in the first week of October, including 1,700 unaccompanied minors. In September, the Nordic state received just under 25,000 requests. Last year it took in more EU migrants per capita than any other EU nation.

On Friday Sweden will welcome a group of Eritreans arriving from Italy who are being relocated as part of the first phase of the EU's programme to move 40,000 refugees from overstretched frontline states.

Sweden agreed on July 20th to take 821 refugees from Italy and 548 from Greece although the number arriving this week has not been made public.