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Nordic refugee welcome chillier as numbers rise

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Nordic refugee welcome chillier as numbers rise
Refugees at Malmö central train station earlier this autumn. Photo: Andreas Hillergren/TT
07:11 CET+01:00
Asylum seekers travelling to Scandinavia are finding chillier welcomes as their numbers surge and far-right parties increasingly assert their influence on immigration policy, analysts have said.

Denmark, Norway and Finland – but also Sweden, heretofore especially welcoming to refugees – have begun cutting back the benefits they offer to newcomers while also hardening their asylum policies.

“It seems there's a certain amount of competition aimed at not offering the most generous social benefits to asylum seekers,” Asle Toje, a Norwegian international relations expert, told the AFP news agency.

Even ultra-liberal Sweden, despite taking in more asylum seekers per capita than any other EU state – expecting around 190,000 this year for a population of under 10 million – has decided to tone down its image of generosity.

In line with the rise of the far-right Sweden Democrats party, the kingdom is now demanding that its European partners share more of the burden, and it plans to harden conditions for reuniting families.

Sweden's ruling “Social Democrats are worried about losing voters to the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats, who were capitalizing on people's fears over mass migration to Sweden,” said Magnus Hagevi, political scientist at Linné University.

“Already we've witnessed a rash of arson attacks on migrant facilities across Sweden – people are also worried about the price of immigration. Many people are worried about what the future will bring and how that will affect the welfare state,” he said.

Again on Saturday, a planned refugee shelter was burned down in Sweden, the latest in a string of suspected arson cases targeting a huge influx of migrants.

READ ALSO: Sweden and Denmark in refugee war of words

On the other side of the Öresund strait, Denmark's immigration policy has grown tighter since 2001, when the far-right Danish People's Party began influencing policy making.

In July, soon after elections made DPP the country's second-largest party, Denmark moved to slash benefits to asylum seekers in a bid to reduce the influx.

Under the new rules, which came into effect in September, a recently arrived immigrant without children now receives 5,945 kroner ($897) per month, compared with the 10,849 kroner they got previously.

The move seems to have had the desired effect, since the number of asylum seekers declined in September from a year earlier while setting records elsewhere in Europe.

“Many of them say that the conditions are better for them in other countries, perhaps Sweden, asn so they go there,” said DPP leader Kristian Thulesen Dahl.

Norway and Finland, both led by governments with anti-immigration elements, are similarly moving to cut back social services and toughen conditions for uniting families and granting citizenship or permanent residency.

The Nordic countries are also trying to use the media to help them stop the flow at its source. In September, Denmark took out advertisements in the Lebanese press warning about new asylum regulations in the hope of discouraging Syrian refugees.

And unofficial flyers, purporting to be by the nationalist Sweden Democrats, have been found circulating in a refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos, warning of grenade attacks, shootings and, incorrectly, an imminent ban on halal slaughter and the veil in the Scandinavian country.

READ ALSO: Refugee flyer made false claims about Sweden

Norway and Finland have tried to get the message across on Facebook, where the bulk of people turn to compare possible destinations. But Toje said the strategy is likely to have little effect.

“Refugees are not coming here mainly to take advantage of the welfare state. They are fleeing countries where there is war, conflict and hardship. So even if we reduce services, I don't think that will necessarily lessen the number of asylum seekers,” he said.

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