Sweden coping with refugee inflow, may use prisons as housing

Sweden could use empty prisons and army barracks as emergency shelter for record numbers of refugees arriving in the Nordic country, the government said on Friday.

Stockholm: Sweden could use empty prisons and army barracks as emergency shelter for record numbers of refugees arriving in the Nordic country, the government said on Friday.

Sweden is coping and can house the 7,000 asylum seekers a week who are arriving at the country`s ports and stations, but the situation is becoming "strained", Migration Minister Morgan Johansson told reporters.

"We are now experiencing the biggest flow of refugees since World War Two," Johansson said. "If this continues week after week after week, then we will need more housing."

Sweden`s generous asylum policies mean it is one of the top destinations for people fleeing war and violence in the Middle East and Africa. Syrians, for example, have an automatic right to permanent residency. 

The Migration Agency forecast in July that Sweden would receive 74,000 asylum applications this year, but the intensifying crisis means this number will likely be raised significantly.

To meet the challenge, the government plans to draw up an inventory of properties owned by the state and state companies that could be used to house refugees. The list includes army barracks as well as empty prisons.

"We don`t have a full load (in Swedish prisons)," Johansson said, adding the government would also speed up planned legislation to spread the burden of housing refugees more evenly across Sweden`s regions.

Currently, local authorities can block permanent refugee placements by saying they simply have no room.

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