Up to 80,000 asylum seekers whose applications have been rejected face deportation from Sweden, Interior Minister Anders Ygeman said Thursday.
“We are talking about 60,000 people but the number could climb to 80,000,” the minister said according to local media.
He told the Dagens Industri newspaper that the government had ordered police and immigration officials to prepare the deportations of those whose 2015 applications had been turned down.
“The first step is to get a voluntary return and create good conditions for it,” Ygeman, a member of the left-wing Social Democrats, said. “But should we fail to achieve this, then we will have to return by force.”
Those deported would be returned to their countries of origin, he added.
Last year, around 163,000 people applied for asylum in Sweden, which has taken in the most refugees per capita in Europe. After Germany, the country was the top destination for asylum seekers last year.
Calling the removals a “huge challenge”, Ygeman said around 45 percent of asylum applications were rejected.
The expulsions, which would normally be carried out using commercial flights, would be done using chartered aircraft and staggered over several years, he added.
The proposal came as Europe struggles to deal with the largest movement of people since World War II, with more than a million arriving in the EU last year.
Earlier this month, Sweden introduced systematic photographic ID checks while in Denmark the government has approved a law to allow authorities to confiscate refugees’ valuables to cover the cost of food and accommodation during the asylum application process.