Migrant-magnet Sweden strains to shelter unexpected influx

Amid a major migration crisis, Sweden has received more refugees per capita than any other European country, and is proud of its open door policy. But the welcoming nation's immigration system is straining to meet the demand, which far exceeds what the government anticipated. Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports.

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    But, first, Sweden has received more refugees per capita than any other European country, and the government is proud of its open-door policy.

    But, as special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports from Sweden, the country's generosity has left it struggling to cope with an influx that's far greater than anticipated.


    Twenty-one-year-old student Abed Allmugharbel has found sanctuary in the historic town of Ystad, a continent away from Homs in Syria, where his home and much of the city has been destroyed.

    Sweden's offer of granting asylum to all Syrian refugees was irresistible.

  • ABED ALLMUGHARBEL, Syrian Refugee:

    I never imagined myself outside of Homs city. Now I'm from Sweden — I'm in Sweden. It's very happy to be in a very peaceful country, where I'm being treated like a human, respect to human life. Very friendly people here. It's very happy to be here.


    We first encountered Abed last month in the Turkish coastal city of Izmir, where smugglers arranged passage to Europe. On that day, Abed had just met a trafficker who had promised to get him to Greece.


    It might be my best day or might be my salvation day.


    Thankfully for Abed, it was his salvation day, but for hundreds of others, such deals are death sentences.

    Abed's odyssey to Sweden from Lebanon took 17 days and cost $2,500. He sailed from Tripoli in Lebanon to Mersin in Turkey and then traveled to the people-smuggling center of Izmir next to the Aegean Sea.

    An overcrowded inflatable carried him and other migrants to the Greek island of Lesbos. From there, he took a ferry to Athens, and then a bus to the Macedonian border. All the way, his path and that of tens of thousands of others was facilitated by the U.N. Refugee Agency through border crossings in Serbia, Croatia, Hungary and Austria.

    Eventually, he reached Bavaria, where he was told by the Germans that he could apply for asylum or carry on. Abed continued his journey north to Hamburg and onto the Baltic port of Sassnitz, where he took a ship that enabled him to bypass Denmark and landed in Trelleborg in Southern Sweden. And there he began the process of claiming asylum.

    The most perilous part of Abed's odyssey was the crossing to Lesbos. The legal ferry takes just under an hour and costs about $30. Abed paid $1,200 for a place in a crowded inflatable whose engine broke down halfway across and started to leak.


    After like 25 minutes, under the engine, there was a hole. The hole was getting the water in the boat. You can imagine how a woman can scream of — frightening, of how children can scream of being afraid.

    Yes, at that point, we thought we are going to die. Happily, the boat made it to the shore. I don't want to go through this suffering all again. I don't wish it for anyone, even my enemy. But there was no other way. I had to take this way to get to here.


    He promises to give something back to a country which has taken the moral high ground over Europe's migration crisis, but is struggling to cope.

  • WOMAN (through interpreter):

    And 398, 399, very big family, many people. Can I see? Oh, that's perfect.


    This is a registration center in Gothenburg, Sweden's second city. The system is straining at the seams, as genuine refugees and economic migrants alike seize the opportunity for a new life.

    The numbers coming into Sweden far exceed those anticipated by the government. The latest figures today show that, in the past seven days, there have been 8,300 people who have applied for asylum. Now, during the course of a whole month, that amounts to more than 30,000 people. Over three months, it equates to 1 percent of the whole Swedish population.

    The head of the migration board says, we're coming to the end of the road. Sweden regards itself as the humanitarian conscience of the world and there is genuine pride that the country is trying to provide the newcomers with a soft landing. But the sheer volume of asylum seekers has taken the authorities by surprise.

  • PERNILLE WALLIN, Head, Asylum Application Service:

    We are working from 8:00 in the morning to 7:30 p.m. in the evening seven days a week now.


    Do you see an increase in the numbers coming or is it dying down?


    It's an increase. It's getting more and more every day. Last week, we had 250 altogether. Now we have 310 with them. So, it's getting more, more and more people.


    And how do you anticipate it will grow?


    I think it will get higher for a couple of weeks, and then maybe slowly getting fewer seeking protection because of the weather situation in Southern Europe.


    Haidar, a 22-year-old videographer from Iraq, is one of the newest arrivals. He spent time in Mosul occupied by the so-called Islamic State and recently escaped from kidnappers. He asked not to be identified.

  • HAIDAR, Iraqu Journalist/Refugee:

    I am grateful for the Sweden — for Sweden people and for the government, because they are opening their doors for us, because we had no home, no nothing. We don't have money. We don't have a home. We don't have a place to go. So, we are so grateful for them.


    In Trelleborg, a small port town with direct ferry links to Germany, the local council is struggling to accommodate a surge in unaccompanied minors, mainly boys aged under 18 from Afghanistan.

  • MAN:

    In my country is Taliban war.


    In the past week, Trelleborg has taken in almost 1,000 children, which represents a 2 percent increase in the town's population.

  • CECILIA LEJON, Trelleborg Council:

    Oh, it was another world before. Before, we had, like, two new kids every week, and we thought that that was really a lot. We thought that was a pressure on Trelleborg. And now there are 100 a day. So, we have got some new perspective on this.


    Her deputy, Patrik Mullerstrom, is having to be inventive to try to find enough places to accommodate the unaccompanied minors.

  • PATRIK MULLERSTROM, Trelleborg Council:

    We have people working on getting properties for new housings. And they're looking at every single housing in the city, old abandoned offices, like this, the museum. We're staying away from school gymnasiums, because we don't want to disrupt the regular city activities. But we're really looking around.


    Malmo, Sweden's third city, is seeing the biggest influx. This is a magnet for newcomers because the city already has a large migrant population.

    And again here, the council is trying to find shelter for 1,000 unaccompanied minors and is competing with the migration board to find accommodation.

    Center-right economist Tino Sanandaji, originally from Iranian Kurdistan, is highly critical of the Social Democrat government's open-door policy.

  • TINO SANANDAJI, Economist:

    I think it's quite disastrous, and especially if it continues. If it continues, this is an irreversible social experiment that no wealthy state has ever attempted. And there is a palpable sense of crisis, but there is really almost no ideas or visions and so on about how this can be solved.

    They're just sort of postponing it to the future. And, temporarily, they are using, I would argue, politically correct spin to calm the public.


    Sweden's immigration minister, Morgan Johansson, wasn't available for interview this week, but I spoke to him just over a month ago.

    What do you say to those people who think that your immigration policy, your open-door policy, is naive?

  • MORGAN JOHANSSON, Migration Minister, Sweden:

    I say that this is — we are now suffering from one of the worst humanitarian crises in our time, seeing the people running, fleeing from Syria, over 12 million people, from the war.

    And I would say, if you say like that, if you put it like that, just turn on your television set and see for yourself what these people are fleeing from. We, as a country, has an obligation to help.


    The government has acknowledged that Sweden will have to implement extraordinary measures. It forecasts a difficult autumn, although it insists the country can cope.

    In Ystad, Abed has a message for worried Swedes.


    I hope one day to go back to Syria when the war is over. Everyone here will hope — hoping — is hoping to go back to Syria when the war is over.


    Abed hopes to be an asset to Sweden. But amongst the growing number of skeptics, there is a fear that many of his fellow newcomers will be a drain on society.

    For the PBS NewsHour, I'm Malcolm Brabant in Sweden.

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