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Tuesday, December 6, 2016

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – Thousands of Swedes rallied in support of refugees on a square in the capital on Sunday, and Prime Minister Stefan Lofven told them it was time for other countries to do more to help tackle Europe’s migration crisis.

Sweden has a decades-long record of welcoming refugees from Chile in the 70s, the Iran-Iraq war in the 80s and the Yugoslav wars in the 90s. In the current crisis, it has received more asylum seekers per capita than any other nation in Europe.

Despite its generosity, it has one of the poorest track records among wealthy industrialized nations of integrating newcomers into the workforce, and this has helped fuel support for the far right. The anti-immigration Sweden Democrats became parliament’s third biggest party in elections last year.

While saying Sweden would continue to accept people fleeing from crises, Lofven called for other European Union countries to welcome more refugees.

“The idea was never – never – that European cooperation would be a way to shut out people who are fleeing,” he told the crowd, which police estimated at around 15,000. Some people held up signs saying “Welcome” and “Thank You Sweden”.

Around 81,000 people sought asylum in Sweden last year, second in Europe only to Germany, with Syrians making up the biggest group.

“Sweden and Germany and a few other countries cannot do this on their own,” Lofven said.

A poll published by newspaper Aftonbladet on Sunday showed two out of three of around 1,200 respondents were prepared to help refugees in some way.

(Reporting by Sven Nordenstam; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

Photo: A volunteer distributes food to migrants at the railway station in Nickelsdorf, Austria September 6, 2015. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger