Sweden is preparing for the expulsion of up to 80,000 people whose asylum bids have been rejected, a cabinet member said Thursday.
"I think it is in any event 60,000 people, but it could be up to 80,000," Home Affairs Minister Anders Ygeman was quoted as saying in the financial daily Dagens Industri.
A record 163,000 people applied for asylum in Sweden in 2015, straining resources and capacity at reception centres and local municipalities.
In past years, about 45 per cent of applications have been refused, resulting in the estimate Ygeman and the government was operating with.
"The big increase (in expulsions) is likely first in a year's time, when the Migration Agency makes its decisions," Ygeman said, referring to the backlog the agency was struggling with.
"We have a large challenge ahead," he said.
Police and migration authorities have been instructed to prepare the expulsions, and there is need to increase both resources and cooperation between authorities.
The minister told Swedish television that the focus was on voluntary returns and on motivating people to go back to their countries of origin, "but ultimately we have to be prepared to use force," he added.
Authorities must also be prepared to act against employers who exploit people staying in Sweden without permission and "ensure that it doesn't pay to remain illegally," Ygeman said.
There was a significant risk that large numbers of those affected would disappear out of sight of the authorities, the government said.
Patrik Engstrom, head of the border police, told the daily that more police officers will be needed.
The police also need to work much closer with the Migration Agency and be present when an asylum seeker is notified that his or her bid has been rejected as that is when many "disappear," he added.
To effectuate the expulsions, Ygeman said, a likely option would be to charter planes, perhaps in cooperation with the European Union.
Stockholm was already in talks with Afghanistan and Morocco about the return of citizens from those countries.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani visited Sweden in December and agreed with Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven to open talks on repatriating Afghan nationals whose asylum bids have been rejected.
Most of the asylum seekers in 2015 were from Syria and Afghanistan, with the next largest group coming from Iraq, according to the Migration Agency.
Close to 35,400 bids were made by unaccompanied minors, the majority of whom were Afghans.