STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Sweden’s Migration Agency said on Thursday it expected up to 140,000 asylum seekers in 2016 but the government said it would not allow numbers to get anywhere near that, and vowed to introduce further measures to curb the influx if needed.
Sweden took in 163,000 asylum seekers last year, twice the previous record set during the Balkan wars of the 1990s. The arrivals have put a huge strain on housing and other welfare services in the Nordic country.
The influx has also seen the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats surge in opinion polls to become the country’s biggest party in some surveys.
The Migration Agency said it expected between 70,000 and 140,000 to seek asylum this year. It said the lower figure was only possible if “control measures have a clear effect throughout the year and additional measures are introduced when the number of asylum seekers begins to rise in May”.
Migration Minister Morgan Johansson said Sweden even the lower figure in the forecast range was too high.
“We cannot cope with numbers that high. We will have to act long before we reach such numbers,” Johansson said. “We will not put ourselves in a situation like the one we were in last fall.”
Johansson did not say what measures the government had in mind but added existing controls would remain in place as long as necessary.
The Agency’s higher estimate included up to 27,000 unaccompanied minors.
The last forecast in October, made before border controls were introduced, was for up to 170,000 asylum seekers this year.
(This version of the story removes reference to rising influx in headline)
Reporting by Johan Ahlander; Editing by Niklas Pollard and Jon Boyle