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Sweden far-right party makes gains from migrant crisis

Katya Adler
Europe editor
@BBCkatyaadleron Twitter

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"We haven't heard rhetoric like this in Europe since the 1930s. It really worries me," Morgan Johansson, Sweden's baby-faced immigration minister, told me as we discussed growing support amongst his countrymen and women for the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats Party.

It has roots in the neo-Nazi movement.

The Sweden Democrats are used to being front-page news - recently they've been blamed for provoking arson attacks on a number of asylum centres - but they are not yet accustomed to being Sweden's third largest political movement.

Their new-found popularity is directly linked to Europe's refugee crisis.

Search the word 'asylum' in Arabic on your smartphone and Sweden pops up as a number one result.

There are more asylum seekers per capita in this country of under 10 million than in any other European nation.

Dazed refugees landing on Europe's Mediterranean shores prefer to trek determinedly north.

Germany and Sweden, they believe, will provide shelter, jobs and generous benefits.

Situation 'out of hand'

Sweden's reputation for welcoming refugees and political asylum seekers is decades old. It famously took in US draft-dodgers during the Vietnam war.

But the current mass arrival of asylum seekers is forcing Sweden to face uncomfortable questions about the kind of society it wants - and can afford - to be.

Frustrated by the political mainstream, middle-class, urban 20-somethings Per Sefastsson and Jenny Ribsskog have switched their allegiance from the centre-right and centre-left respectively to the Sweden Democrats.

I met the pair in Stockholm's sumptuous Ostermalm food hall. A far cry from Sweden's stretched refugee facilities.

They told me they were so worried about the situation spiralling out of control that they recently started working for the Sweden Democrats, supporting the party's drive to stop immigration to Sweden altogether.

image copyrightEPA
image captionSweden has a decades-old reputation for welcoming migrants

Jenny told me her country was full.

"The situation here is completely out of hand. We have no work, no schools, no housing for the migrants. The government is talking about putting them in tents for the winter. It's worrying."

She wants a temporary ban on all migration to Sweden. Including refugees and asylum seekers.

Per told me it used to be considered racist to even debate migration.

"Now," he said, "More and more Swedes from every social background are realising it's not feasible to take in so many people in such a short amount of time."

Pressure on services

Mass migration now touches the lives of all Swedes, he says, with increasing numbers of ghetto-like communities nationwide and cuts to the over-burdened welfare state affecting everyone.

A particular stress on social services is the growing number of unaccompanied minors coming to Sweden. Around 33,000 this year alone, according to the government.

Many of the arrivals are teenage asylum seekers but, I was told, children as young as seven now travel alone too.

Their families know that once youngsters have been granted residency, Swedish law demands close relatives may move to Sweden too.

In desperation, Sweden's centre-left government has requested to join the EU's controversial - and limited - relocation scheme.

Up to 54,000 asylum seekers in Sweden could soon be shared out amongst other EU member states.

image copyrightReuters
image captionThe Sweden Democrat Party has staged rallies in recent weeks calling for stricter border controls

The immigration minister told me that the European Commission agreed that Sweden had a very strong case.

Whereas in Greece and Italy most refugees and other migrants are in transit, Sweden is a favoured end destination.

"The rest of Europe has to help," he said.

"We cannot year after year be doing more than any other country."

"We cannot just throw women and children back into the war - that is a moral obligation for us - but the UK has to help, Portugal has to help, Spain has to help. The countries of Central and Eastern Europe have to help.

"You can't just take the finances of the EU. You also have to take responsibility in difficult times."

His frustration was glaringly evident.

image copyrightReuters
image captionJustice and Migration Minister Morgan Johansson recently said Sweden could no longer guarantee accommodation for refugees seeking asylum

I asked him if he thought the EU had failed over the crisis.

His pause was long and heavy but he then insisted that there could be no solution without the EU.

Slow progress

This week EU leaders discuss migration with African countries before holding the next in a long line of hastily organised migration meetings amongst themselves.

The focus this time will be on broken promises.

Even when fractious European countries reach agreements on dividing up asylum seekers more equally, offering personnel to help better patrol EU borders and plans to send blankets and tents for migrants stranded in the Balkans, they have been slow to make good on their pledges. To put it politely.

For example, just over 100 asylum seekers out of an agreed 39,600 have been successfully relocated from Italy to other EU countries so far - and around 30 out of 66,400 from Greece.

Trains carrying migrants to Sweden arrive all day, every day.

More in a fortnight than the UK - with a population more than six times that of Sweden - is willing to take over the next five years, according to Mr Johansson.

While EU leaders argue about responsibility, new arrivals to Stockholm risk spending the icy Swedish winter in tents.

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