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4 Dec, 2015 05:28

Sweden mulls shutting bridge to Denmark amid refugee crisis

Sweden mulls shutting bridge to Denmark amid refugee crisis

The Swedish government is working on a bill that would allow it to close the Oresund Bridge connecting it to Denmark as an emergency measure, as Stockholm continues to struggle with an unending mass influx of refugees.

The proposal on the possible bridge closure is expected to be a part of a bill aimed at curbing the inflow of asylum seekers into the Nordic country of 9.6 million people. Sweden’s number of new refugees and migrants is approaching 200,000, which is twice as high as the previous annual record.

Apart from the potential bridge closure, a new set of measures also includes border controls as well as ID checks on buses, trains, and passenger ferries. Halting the bridge traffic is viewed as the most drastic measure, however, according to Swedish media.

The 8-kilometer-long bridge, which opened in 2000, connects the Danish capital of Copenhagen with Sweden’s third largest city Malmo and has been credited with boosting the economies of both countries by significantly reducing transportation expenses.

Being a combined road and rail bridge, it is a very busy transport route with 20,000 vehicles crossing it every day, and 7 million vehicles along with 12 million train passengers using it yearly, the Financial Times reports.

The plan proposed by the Swedish government, which is still in the works, proposes temporarily halting the road traffic and introducing extensive checks on the trains crossing the bridge. Additionally, all other motorways leading to Sweden could also be temporarily closed if this measure is implemented, the draft document leaked to local media states.

“A temporary closure of the bridge can provide another measure to reduce the risk that public order or internal security is affected as a result of the large influx of asylum seekers,” the document says, as quoted by the Sweden’s Dagens Industri newspaper. 

“The number of asylum applications continues to be at a level that makes the situation such that from a broad perspective a serious threat to public order and internal security in Sweden remains,” it adds.

According to the Local, the document has been handed over to the Swedish Council on Legislation for it to determine if the measure is legally valid before it is presented to the parliament.

If it is adopted by the lawmakers, the bill will allow the government to close the bridge along with other routes to the country – bypassing the parliament. 

However, government officials insist that it is not a set plan for the near future, but a very dramatic measure that would be implemented only in case of emergency.

“Our intent and our hope is that we will not have to use this legal possibility,” the infrastructure minister, Anna Johansson, told the Sweden’s news agency TT.

“It is not an issue at present, but this bill, if passed, would give the government an opportunity to in an emergency close the bridge without having to go through parliament, which would take too long,” Infrastructure Minister Anna Johansson’s press secretary, Elin Tibell, commented on the government’s proposal in an interview to Dagens Industri.

However, the idea has already drawn criticism from politicians as well as from analysts and social activists. 
“This idea to be able to close the Oresund Bridge is particularly ill-conceived. It seems as if desperation has become policy,” Carl Bildt, the former center-right Swedish prime minister, wrote on his twitter.

“If you close the bridge once, you obviously start to wonder if it’s going to happen again. In the long run it can hit Malmö hard because people are dependent on getting to work on the other side of Öresund,” Britt Andresen, chief analyst at the Öresund Institute, said, as quoted by the Local.

At the same time on ‘the other side’ of the bridge, some Danish politicians are voicing similar proposals concerning the road closure. 

“If they want to turn Stockholm, Gothenburg or Malmo into a Scandinavian Beirut, with clan wars, honor killings and gang rapes, let them do it. We can always put a barrier on the Oresund Bridge,” Pia Kjaersgaard, founder and former leader of the anti-immigration Danish People’s Party, said, as quoted by the Financial Times.

The new proposal follows a sudden recent U-turn in the Swedish center-left government’s asylum policy. Only several weeks ago, Sweden proudly claimed to be the EU country accepting the largest number of refugees per capita in recent years.

However, in the view of security concerns following the November Paris attacks and amid growing complaints about overstretched public services, the government has decided to tighten the border regime in order to “drastically reduce” the numbers of newcomers.

The mass influx of refugees to Sweden continues, as 6,134 asylum-seekers arrived just last week and 80,000 people have applied for asylum in the past two month alone, the Local reports.

In the meantime, the Swedish Migration Agency has announced it can no longer guarantee shelter to asylum seekers due to a desperately lack of available infrastructure. It has already housed refugees in almost every spare building, from Arctic ski resorts to Wild West theme parks.

Even the Malmo 2013 Eurovision venue is now being used as a refugee shelter, with more than 900 people housed in the building calling the place “a prison” due to harsh living conditions, the Telegraph reports.