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Sweden approves stricter asylum laws

After receiving 160,000 asylum claims in 2015, Stockholm has voted in favor of tougher rules for new arrivals. The regulations will also affect refugees wanting to join their families in Sweden.

The bill, approved by the Swedish parliament with a 240 to 45 vote on Tuesday, will suspend the granting of temporary residence permits to asylum seekers for three years.

The number of refugees permitted to join relatives already settled in the country will also be limited. The new legislation will come into force on July 20 and will apply to all asylum seekers who arrived after November 24, 2015.

Both parties in Sweden's governing minority coalition - the Social Democrats and Green party - supported the bill. Center and Left parties voted against the measures, while Liberals and Christian Democrats abstained.

No change for UN quota refugees

According to Sweden's current rules, asylum seekers who receive residency permits valid for three years can later apply for permanent residency if they have found a job that covers their basic needs.

Under the new law, asylum seekers who have protected status will be allowed to remain for 13 months. Refugees admitted under UN refugee agency quotas will be unaffected by the changes, however.

The proposal, presented to the Swedish parliament on Tuesday, states that the measures "are designed to greatly reduce the number of asylum seekers while improving the welcome and settlement."

The regulations, which will be among the tightest in Europe, have been criticized by aid organizations, including the Red Cross and Save the Children, as well as the Lutheran Church of Sweden.

Controversial border checks

With a population of almost 10 million, Sweden, along with Germany and Austria, was among the top destinations in Europe last year for people fleeing conflict in countries such as Syria and Iraq. Having received some 160,000 refugees last year, Stockholm estimates that around 45 percent of all asylum requests were rejected.

Sweden already tightened its asylum rules in 2015 with slew of measures to deter migrants from travelling to Sweden. The u-turn in policy came just weeks after Prime Minister Stefan Lofven told a "Refugees Welcome" rally in Stockholm that his "Europe does not build walls."

In January,

controversial controls were also reinstated on Sweden's border with Denmark,

which was previously a route used by most refugees trying to reach Sweden.

ksb/bk (AFP, AP, dpa)

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