EU members responses to the growing refugee crisis lurched between plans for immediate expulsion and selective acceptance Thursday as Sweden, the Netherlands and Britain grappled with the waves of migrants trekking across their borders.
The European Union's 28 member states have struggled for months to get a handle on an ongoing migration crisis that saw more than 1 million migrants and refugees reach Europe last year - most of them through Greece.
The surge has not abated in January, despite the danger of crossing the Aegean Sea from Turkey in winter. The UN refugee agency UNHCR has registered more than 44,000 arrivals since the start of this year.
With no end in sight, Sweden is preparing for the expulsion of up to 80,000 people whose asylum bids have been rejected, a cabinet member said Thursday.
Between 60,000 and 80,000 rejected asylum seekers could be sent home, Home Affairs Minister Anders Ygeman was quoted by financial daily Dagens Industri as saying.
The record 163,000 people who applied for asylum in Sweden in 2015 - mostly from Syria and Afghanistan - strained resources and capacity at reception centres and local municipalities.
"We have a large challenge ahead," Ygeman said.
The time it takes to process an asylum application in Sweden has steadily increased with the country's migration influx. A process that took, on average, 122 days in 2013 could now take at least a year, a Migration Agency spokeswoman told dpa.
Police and migration authorities have been instructed to prepare and foster better cooperation for the expulsions.
A rejected asylum seeker's voluntary return was preferable, Ygeman told Swedish television, "but ultimately we have to be prepared to use force" and act against employers who exploit those staying in Sweden without permission.
Missing identity papers could delay or hinder the expulsions, as governments could reject their own nationals without proof of citizenship, Mikael Ribbenvik, deputy director of Sweden's Migration Agency, told Swedish Radio.
Stockholm was already in talks with Afghanistan and Morocco about the return of citizens from those countries.
Further south, a ruling party politician in the Netherlands went public with a plan to ship back refugees who illegally arrived on EU shores in Greece, saying the scheme could be implemented in the near future by a core group of EU member-states.
Social Democrat party leader Diederik Samsom said Thursday that, under the plan, refugees would be ferried back to Turkey if they arrived in Greece illegally.
As a counterweight to the measure, the EU would allow as many as 250,000 refugees to enter the 28-member bloc from Turkey if they follow legal immigration protocol.
The plan was proposed by the Netherlands, which currently holds the EU presidency, and would also involve Germany, Austria and Sweden.
Heads of state have already discussed the plan during talks in December in Brussels, according to Samsom, and additional steps could be taken at the EU summit in February.
"It is a better alternative than closing the borders," Samsom said
In comments carried earlier by Dutch daily De Volkskrant, the Dutch politician the first ferries from Greece to Turkey could begin running in March or April.
Amnesty International called the plan "fundamentally flawed" and "morally bankrupt", noting that it would effectively seal off borders and illegally return refugees without due process or the chance to apply for to asylum.
Meanwhile, Britain's offer to resettle several hundred children from refugee camps on Syria's borders was blasted by refugee groups for ignoring the thousands of unaccompanied Syrian children already stranded in Europe.
The government said it has asked the UN refugee agency "to identify exceptional cases of unaccompanied children whose needs cannot be met in the region and whose best interests would be met through protection in the UK."
The resettlement of children from refugee camps is a "step forward," the London-based Refugee Council said, but it fails to recognize that "refugees [in Europe] are fleeing the same atrocities as those the government is choosing to resettle."
The government said it expected the UNHCR to "identify several hundred children who will be resettled here," adding that the move will add to an earlier commitment to resettle 20,000 Syrians from refugee camps by 2020.
In a separate move, the government's development agency will use a 10-million-pound (14-million-dollar) fund to support vulnerable refugee children in Europe.