The agency processed twice as many decisions in 2016 as it did in 2015, putting on track to clear the backlog built up during Europe’s refugee crisis.
Some 17,000 asylum seekers were registered as refugees, 47,000 were given a permit due to “alternative needs of protection, and 5,880 withdrew their applications.
“We’re handling it,” the agency’s General Director Mikael Ribbenvik told Sweden’s TT newswire after issuing the figures in a press statement. “In the autumn we hit a peak of 14,000 to 15,000 cases a month. But we can’t keep up that pace and we don’t need to either. We were a bit behind in the autumn and needed to catch up.”
He aims to keep processing 10,000 cases a month up until the summer, allowing him to clear the remaining 70,000 asylum seekers waiting for a decision.
“There’s no point in us making decisions if they’re not legally sound,” he said. “The risk of being tested in court hangs over all our decisions and if we don’t handle them carefully we just end up with a court case.”
The number of asylum seekers coming to Sweden dropped to just 29,000 in 2016, down from more than 160,000 in the crisis year of 2015.
According to the Agency, this is partly as a result of Sweden’s decision to tighten its rules on family reunion and permanent residency, and partly as a result of a refugee deal struck between the EU and Turkey.
The number of unaccompanied minors seeking asylum in Sweden has dropped the most dramatically, with just 2,200 applications compared to 35,400 in 2015.
“That can be be explained by the fact that children very often lack ID,” Ribbenvik said. “It’s now difficult to get through without ID at every border control there is in Europe.”
But while the agency has done a good job speeding up processing times for asylum claims, it has diverted resources away from the processing of permits for work and other permits, leading to frustrating waits for new arrivals in the country.
“An important goal for us in 2017 is to shorten the handling time when it comes to applications for connections, work or studies,” Ribbenvik said in a press release.