Arsonists attack another migrant centre in Sweden

Gaël Branchereau

Stockholm (AFP) - Arsonists attacked a centre housing asylum seekers in a small town in southern Sweden early Tuesday in the latest attack linked to the growing influx of migrants.

Since the start of the year, there have been more than a dozen arson attacks targeting refugee reception centres and apartments, reducing some of them to cinders.

"A civilised country like Sweden cannot accept that housing centres for asylum seekers should become prey to arsonists," Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom wrote on Twitter on Tuesday.

So far, there have been local inquiries but Sweden's national police could get involved if it appeared there were links between the various attacks, police spokeswoman Carolina Ekeus said.

Tuesday's attack targeted a building housing 14 migrants in Munkedal, a normally quiet town of 10,000 inhabitants in southwestern Sweden.

Noone was injured in the incident although several refugees suffered smoke inhalation. They were quickly rehoused.

"I thought I was going to die, it was horrible, but now it's OK, I'm safe," said Ahmet, a Somali refugee interviewed by Swedish public radio SR.

On June 19, two Molotov cocktails were hurled at a building housing migrants, and two months later, on August 16, a cross was set alight outside another migrant centre.

The same day, a bag containing flammable liquid was left outside another refugee centre in the central town of Arboga where an Eritrean man accused of deadly stabbing attack at an IKEA store had been living.

The attack, which took place three days earlier, claimed the lives of a 55-year-old woman and her 28-year-old son.

Tuesday's arson attack drew swift condemnation.

"That's not the Sweden that we're proud of," Prime Minister Stefan Lofven told the TT news agency, slamming such attacks as "serious and frightening".

Sweden, which is home to 9.8 million people, is one of the European Union countries that has taken in the largest number of refugees in relation to its population.

Last week, Lofven said that up to 150,000 people could seek asylum this year in the Scandinavian country, which is struggling to find housing for the new arrivals.

In the first nine months of the year, more than 73,000 people applied for asylum in Sweden.

- Returned to Russia -

Meanwhile Norway's government on Tuesday confirmed it would soon start returning some asylum seekers, mainly Syrians, to Russia.

Police say some 1,600 people have reached the Scandinavian country by crossing the Arctic and the Storskog border station dividing northern Russia from Norway.

Some 20 to 30 percent of the Syrians taking this route -- which is less dangerous than crossing the Mediterranean in an inflatable boat -- had been living in Russia legally, the government said.

Citing an agreement with Russia signed in 2007, Justice Minister Anders Anundsen on Tuesday ordered immigration authorities to prioritise the case files of asylum seekers with Russian dual citizenship, a residence permit or a visa.

The authorities were also to send back to Russia those who were not deemed to require protection.

Refugees have been crossing the Storskog border by bicycle, as Russian regulations do not allow people to cross the border on foot and the Norwegian authorities consider it human trafficking to transport refugees across the border in a car.

Norway expects to receive up to 25,000 asylum applications this year, most of them people who arrive via neighbouring Sweden.