STOCKHOLM • Sweden said it expects to expel up to 80,000 migrants whose asylum requests will likely be rejected, as another 24 people, including children, drowned off Greece yesterday in a desperate bid to reach Europe.
As the continent grapples with efforts to stem a record flow of migrants, Swedish Interior Minister Anders Ygeman said the mass expulsions of people who arrived in the Scandinavian country last year would require the use of specially chartered aircraft and be staggered over several years.
"We are talking about 60,000 people, but the number could climb to 80,000," he told Swedish media, adding that the police and migration authorities had been tasked with organising the scheme.
The government fears many of those migrants will go into hiding, Dagens Industri reported, and the police are increasing their work to find and expel them.
"We have a big challenge ahead of us. We will need to use more resources for this and we must have better cooperation between the authorities," Mr Ygeman was quoted as saying.
Faced with an unending influx of migrants, many European countries have introduced measures to stem the flow.
GERMANY: While resisting pressure to introduce a cap on the number of migrant seekers entering the country, it has proposed measures to make it easier to deport unwanted asylum seekers.
DENMARK: Lawmakers have passed a Bill allowing the authorities to seize valuables from refugees, which it says is necessary to pay for the cost of hosting them.
SWEDEN: It reversed its open- door immigration policy late last year and has introduced border controls and identity checks to stem the flow.
MACEDONIA and SERBIA: Macedonia has begun to intermittently close its Greek border, allowing passage only to refugees wishing to go to Germany or Austria. Earlier, the country and Serbia had only allowed the passage of migrants from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.
AUSTRIA: The migrant hot spot says it will cap the number of asylum seekers it allows in this year at 37,500, compared with the 90,000 claims it received last year.
FRANCE: After standing by Germany in welcoming refugees into Europe, the country is backtracking on its stance, insisting that all asylum seekers cannot be allowed in. It has called for tougher vetting of migrants entering the European Union. There have also been suggestions of deploying the army to control migrants at Calais.
HUNGARY: The country was one of the first to demonstrate opposition to the waves of migrants entering the EU, erecting a fence at its border with Serbia and deploying soldiers to prevent migrants from entering.
Of the 58,800 asylum requests handled by the Swedish migration authorities last year, 55 per cent were accepted.
Many of those requests were, however, submitted in 2014, before the large migrant flow began. Mr Ygeman said he used the 55 per cent figure to estimate that around half of the 163,000 asylum requests received last year would likely be rejected.
The Netherlands has proposed to "force a solution" to the crisis gripping Europe by sending back refugees arriving on Greek islands via rickety boats by ferry to Turkey, reported the BBC.
Labour Party leader Diederik Samsom said that under the proposal, the European Union would offer to take in up to 250,000 refugees a year currently in Turkey in return for Turkey's involvement in the plan.
The plan would need to be in place by spring, he said, before the next surge in numbers is expected.
More than one million people travelled to Europe last year - the majority of them refugees fleeing conflict in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan - in the continent's worst migration crisis since World War II. Of those, more than 850,000 people arrived on the Greek islands from Turkey.
Flimsy boats packed with migrants are still arriving on Greek beaches every day, the passengers undeterred by Europe's cold wintry conditions.
Yesterday, the bodies of 24 migrants, including 10 children, were discovered off the Greek island of Samos after their boat capsized and 17 others were still missing, the Greek coast guard said, a day after seven other bodies were found near the island of Kos.
The EU blasted Athens for its handling of the migrant crisis on Wednesday, saying it had "seriously neglected" its duty to protect the bloc's frontiers, raising the prospect of border controls with the rest of the passport-free zone.
The European Commission said Greece could face border controls with the rest of the EU's Schengen zone if it fails to act.
"The draft report concludes that Greece seriously neglected its obligations and that there are serious deficiencies in the carrying out of external border controls that must be overcome and dealt with by the Greek authorities," European Commission vice-president Valdis Dombrovskis told a press conference.
The highly critical draft report found Greece was failing to properly register and fingerprint migrants, with security concerns still high after revelations that two militants behind November's Paris attacks slipped into Europe by posing as refugees.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS