The most refugee-friendly country in Europe is growing weary

Room for more?
Room for more?
Image: Reuters/Johan Nilsson
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Sweden has long been Europe’s most welcoming country for refugees.

The Scandinavian country received more refugees per capita than anywhere else in Europe last year. But after a record-breaking 163,000 people applied for asylum in 2015—almost double the amount that came in the previous peak, during the early 1990s Balkan crisis—the Swedes are growing weary.

Fewer Swedes say they are willing to personally help asylum seekers, and an even smaller share want their government to allow more into the country, according to a recent poll. The survey, carried out by research company Inizio for local newspaper Aftonbladet (link in Swedish), polled Swedes on their view on the refugee crisis in 2015 and again in 2016.

The number of respondents who would “definitely” help asylum seekers has fallen from 54% in 2015 to 30% in 2016. The share of people who said they would refuse to assist asylum seekers almost doubled, from 11% in 2015 to 21% this year.

When asked whether the government should take in more refugees, 31% of Swedes said yes in 2015, around the time when the heartbreaking photo of drowned Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi circulated widely. When asked the same question a year later, only 13% of respondents felt the same way. Swedes who say they want their government to take in fewer asylum seekers increased significantly, from 34% in 2015 to 60% in 2016.

Concerns about an overstretched welfare system and a high-profile attack by a young asylum seeker earlier this year has contributed to the rising unease over immigration.

Sweden’s deputy prime minister, Åsa Romson, was reduced to tears last year when announcing stricter rules designed to deter refugees from coming to Sweden. “It pains me that Sweden is no longer capable of receiving asylum seekers at the high level we do today,” Sweden’s prime minister, Stefan Löfven, said at another press conference last year. “We simply cannot do any more.”

Last year, a group of asylum seekers was left to sleep outside in the cold as the Swedish Migration Agency struggled to find them suitable accommodation, unusual for a country with such a long history of hosting refugees. Refugees in Sweden now only receive temporary residence permits, while the right to family reunification is restricted. The country also stepped up border controls, doubling the number of officers patrolling the southern coast, where most refugees arrive.