June 7, 2018 / 4:42 PM / 17 days ago

Swedish parliament votes to give asylum seekers second chance, exposing divisions

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Sweden’s parliament passed a bill on Thursday to give around 9,000 failed asylum seekers a second chance to stay, exposing a split in the opposition over immigration ahead of September’s election.

Sweden took in more than 160,000 asylum seekers in 2015, resulting in a backlash among voters and a u-turn in policy from the Social Democrat-led minority government, bringing in tighter regulations for those wanting to stay.

Despite the tightening, immigration has continued to dominate political debate and has driven a wedge in the four-party centre-right opposition Alliance that hopes to form a government after the election.

The Moderates - the biggest opposition party - and the small Christian Democrats back more restrictive policies. The Liberals and the Centre Party generally take a looser position.

The anti-immigration Sweden Democrats - also in opposition but not part of the Alliance bloc - have been surging in the polls.

The Moderates, and most Christian Democrats and Liberals, voted against the government legislation offering around 9,000 unaccompanied minors who came to Sweden in 2015 another chance to apply for asylum if they stay in school.

The Centre Party, along with a handful of Christian Democrats and Liberals, voted in favour.

“The humanitarian consequences would be far too big if we stopped this proposal,” Centre Party leader Annie Loof told TT news agency.

The split within the opposition will make it much more difficult for the Alliance to form an administration as the Sweden Democrats have vowed to bring down any government that does not toe their hard line on immigration.

Current polls suggest neither the centre left nor centre right will be able to form a stable government without the Sweden Democrats.

Reporting by Simon Johnson and Johan Ahlander; editing by Andrew Roche

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