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Sweden opens first tent camp, as migrant flow plunges

Migrants begin walking towards the Austrian border in Bicske, near Budapest, Hungary, on.  PHOTO: stuff

Migrants begin walking towards the Austrian border in Bicske, near Budapest, Hungary, on.<br />PHOTO: stuff

Sweden has begun housing migrants in heated tents in wintry conditions due to a lack of available housing, despite a sharp drop in asylum seekers, an AFP reporter at the scene reported Friday.

“The first asylum seekers have moved into the 17 temporary tents” raised in Revinge in southern Sweden, Migration Agency section chief Rebecca Bichis told AFP.

Images of the camp of white tents, erected on a grassy field in the tranquil countryside, were striking, a sight unseen in the Scandinavian nation since the Balkans war in the early 1990s when Sweden also took in many refugees.

On Friday, temperatures in Revinge hovered around five degrees Celsius (41 Fahrenheit), as rain lashed the area.

Around 200 people will live in the 17 tents, which sleep 12 people each, Bichis said.

So far only single men were being housed in the tents, as families with children and those with special needs were being prioritised for proper housing.

The Revinge tents are a temporary solution pending the construction of a more permanent camp, Bichis said.

“We don’t know how long they will stay in the tents, it’s impossible to predict. We are taking it from day to day,” she said.

The camp has a dining hall tent and a common area tent with a television.

The first 12 men who moved in late Thursday were from Afghanistan, Algeria, Iraq and Syria, Bichis said.

“Some of them wanted to visit a mosque today and others wanted to go buy cigarettes so we have a minibus that was taking them where they wanted to go,” Bichis said.

A country of 9.8 million people, Sweden has long been a preferred destination for asylum seekers, known for its generous welfare state and asylum policy.

The country has taken in more migrants as a proportion of its population than any other country in Europe, and it has in recent months warned that its public services are straining to cope with the heavy influx.

Around 148,000 people had sought asylum in Sweden by the end of November, according to the Migration Agency.

But the number of arrivals has slowed dramatically in recent weeks.

After a peak of 10,500 asylum seekers during the week ending November 15, the number has fallen to 3,541 in the past seven days, the Migration Agency said Friday.

In a bid to stem the flow of migrants, Sweden reinstated border controls on November 12, and two weeks later announced a drastic tightening of its asylum policy.

The Migration Agency has also pointed to a decline in the numbers of migrants entering Europe by boat from Turkey.



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