World Bulletin/News Desk
Sweden will not "shut the door" on record numbers of asylum seekers but they pose a growing financial burden, the country's finance minister said, in comments that underscore voters' concerns on immigration ahead of next month's general election.
Open debate about the fiscal costs of immigration is new among liberal Sweden's mainstream political parties, but opinion polls show support for the Sweden Democrats, who want to sharply cut the number of asylum seekers, has risen to 10 percent.
Finance Minister Anders Borg said on Wednesday an expected 80,000 asylum seekers both this year and next would place a growing strain on public finances, with the bill likely rising to some 12.4 billion Swedish crowns ($1.80 billion) by 2018.
"We have a humanitarian responsibility and we should accept that humanitarian responsibility," Borg told reporters. "We will not shut the door on people in need."
Borg's comments came after Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt said at the weekend there was no room for increased public spending because of the costs of taking in the asylum seekers.
After that speech, Sweden Democrat leader Jimmie Akesson tweeted: "The Prime Minister has confirmed it - the election is a choice between mass immigration and welfare. You choose Sept. 14."
To deal with the increase in asylum seekers, the bulk of them from Syria and Eritrea, Sweden's Migration Board has said it needs an additional 48 billion crowns in the 2014-18 period.
The Sweden Democrats have been able to use economic uncertainty in recent years and voters' worries that the country can no longer afford its cradle-to grave welfare state to question Stockholm's open-door immigration policies.
Some analysts say the government's strategy of openly talking about the costs of immigration could play into the hands of the Sweden Democrats, who want to cut immigration by 80-90 percent.
Borg said Sweden had received over 2,000 asylum applications a week during the summer, double the number from earlier in the year, and that the figure could rise further in the autumn.
However, he said strong public finances meant Sweden would not need to raise taxes or cut spending this year or in 2015 to meet the increased burden.
"Our judgement is that we are going to have weaker growth in 2014 and 2015 so we shouldn't tighten fiscal policy," he said.
The centre-right government is trailing badly ahead of the election. The latest opinion poll gives the Social Democrat opposition 50.4 percent of the vote, ahead of the governing Alliance's 35.6 percent.
'Macedonia should be ready to stop the entrance of the refugees on its border,' Austrian FM says
Diplomatic sources suggest that EU foreign ministers meeting Monday in Brussels are now expected to approve ending these sanctions completely
According to Czech president, the only way to solve the ongoing refugee crisis is to fall back upon deportation
Tunisian government is preparing to consequences of potential foreign military intervention in the southeastern neighbor
Many refugees who have come to the Nordic country are now having second thoughts
Manuel Valls believes German chancellor's policy is 'unsustainable in long-term'
Crimea has been swept by a fresh wave of home raids and arrests against Crimean Tatars
French finance minister says monetary union is to be deepened and nobody, meaning UK, can oppose it
Berlin 'puts Russia first under the obligation' to implement nationwide cessation of hostilities in Syria
Greece has one month to 'establish an action plan to remedy the deficiencies... (and) within three months of the same date, it shall report on the implementation'
'Our camp at Kidal was attacked by terrorists early Friday morning. We fought back but two peacekeepers were killed and 30 others injured,' a source says
About 800 farmers from Crete clashed with police guarding the entrance to the Agriculture Ministry
‘We feel that sets back the overall effort, what we're trying to achieve on the ground,’ says State Dept.
A Russian delegation headed by deputy PM visits Baghdad hoping to cultivate Iraq market for fighter jets and military hardware
Lawmakers will begin to meet on Tuesday to create zones where FARC members will be able to surrender their arms.
War of words erupt after Russia claims US struck Aleppo