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A Coveted Destination By Migrants, Sweden Imposes Border Controls


Police asked travelers entering Sweden this morning to show their documents, and that is a big departure. Normally, there are no border controls within what's called the Schengen Zone of European nations. But like much of Europe, Sweden is dealing with a huge influx of migrants and refugees - more than 10,000 in just the past week. And Sweden's Prime Minister said the country must, quote, "restore order on our borders." For more, we spoke with journalist Emma Lofgren in Stockholm. Good morning.

EMMA LOFGREN: Good morning.

WERTHEIMER: So what new rules did the government put in place yesterday? What did they do?

LOFGREN: Well, what's happening is that Sweden has begun to implement border controls in southern Sweden, on the bridge from Denmark and the ferries from Germany, which are the routes that most refugees are arriving on. What this means in practice is that, basically, the police are stopping trains and cars and asking people to identify themselves. It's important to note that Sweden is not closing its borders. If you've got the right to come into Sweden, you're more than welcome. You just have to show your passport.

WERTHEIMER: And if you don't have the right - if you are a refugee traveling without papers - what happens?

LOFGREN: Well, if you are a refugee coming to Sweden, you now face three choices. You can return to the country you came from. You can choose to seek asylum in Sweden, which you're still allowed to do. Or for those just passing through Sweden, they now have to choose a different route to their final destination. So it's basically a way of keeping an eye on who gets into the country.

WERTHEIMER: It's not so much keeping people out as it is trying to be clear on exactly what's happening.

LOFGREN: Exactly.

WERTHEIMER: Now, the border controls expire in 10 days. Presumably, people will still keep coming. What's the next step?

LOFGREN: Well, the police have said that they are planning to do this for six months. As you said, these expire in 10 days. But after that they can be extended for another 20 days, and for another 20 days, and so on - indefinitely, really.

WERTHEIMER: The Migration Agency in Sweden says it's run out of housing. It says 23,000 unaccompanied children have entered Sweden this year, and many are unaccounted for. What is the government doing about the children?

LOFGREN: Well, the government has also raised concerns about all the unaccompanied minors going missing. And the border controls are also a way of making sure that that doesn't happen. But most of all, all of this is a massive logistical challenge. Authorities are scrambling to find all available space, including housing people in temporary accommodation and holiday parks and empty schools, prisons, tent camps - even ski resorts. Even the military has been called in to help out.

WERTHEIMER: Sweden has long welcomed refugees and asylum seekers, but there is a growing anti-immigrant movement in the country. Is Sweden's welcoming culture changing?

LOFGREN: Well, support for refugees is dropping. One of the recent polls showed that around 40 percent think that Sweden should take in fewer refugees, which is higher than it used to be. But the flipside of that is that around 50 percent still think that Sweden should either welcome more refugees or let numbers remain at current levels. So it's important to note that it's not like the whole of Sweden has suddenly turned anti-immigration overnight and to look at these figures in a context.

WERTHEIMER: Emma Lofgren reports from Sweden for the European news website, The Local. Thank you very much.

LOFGREN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.