“The prognoses we receive are worthless,” Anders Ygeman told reporters at a press conference, adding that he did not mean to criticize the migration agency (Migrationsverket).
He highlighted several unknown factors the figures rely on, for example how the EU manages to control its outer borders in Greece and whether or not the union's planned relocation scheme of refugees happens.
“If only one of these assumptions falls, the basis of the prognosis changes,” he said.
On October 22nd, the migration agency sharply reversed its previous estimates upwards, with bosses saying they expected Sweden would take in an unprecedented 160,000-190,000 asylum seekers in 2015. The prognosis turned out to be accurate, with the final total being just above 163,000.
But the estimate was made when the autumn's huge influx of refugees to Sweden had already begun. In its previous forecast, in July, the agency was unable to predict the full scale of the influx, predicting that the 2015 figure would end at 74,000 – less than half of those who eventually arrived.
However, the agency's communication director Mikael Hvinlund declined to hit back at the minister's use of the word 'worthless'.
“It's a good headline word, but I don't think that's exactly what Ygeman wanted to say,” he told TT and added that the prognoses can be “reasonably accurate” looking a few months ahead.
And Ygeman himself later appeared to backtrack on his comments.
“It was perhaps an unfortunate choice of words. But it is very difficult to make long-term predictions about complex situations in other parts of the world,” he told the Aftonbladet daily
In the October forecast the agency predicted between 100,000 and 170,000 people will arrive in 2016. However, Sweden has since seen a dip in the number of refugees after it introduced border controls on November 12th and stricter rules for asylum applications.
The number of arrivals dropped even further after migrants were forced to show ID on trains, buses and ferries entering the country in a separate move starting on January 4th.
The Swedish migration agency said on Tuesday that refugee arrival numbers have dropped from a weekly peak of nearly 10,000 in October to less than 700 in the past seven days.