Sweden took in 163,000 asylum seekers last year, the most per capita in Europe, and double the previous record set during the Balkan wars. Refugees have long been drawn to the country's famed generosity and tolerance. Many fleeing increasing conflict and deprivation in the Middle East, Africa and Asia dream of a Scandinavian Utopia where they will be welcomed with open arms. The reality is often quite different.

The arrivals have put a huge strain on housing and other welfare services in the Nordic country. Summer holiday resorts, old schools and private buildings are being converted into temporary shelters for migrants and refugees as they wait for a decision on their asylum applications.

Photographer David Ramos travelled around Sweden to document the daily lives of people stuck in no-man's land during the cold Scandinavian winter.

Sweden refugees
Refugees walk in the grounds of Sweden's largest temporary camp for asylum seekers, at the former Restad Gård psychiatric hospital in VänersborgDavid Ramos/Getty Images
Sweden refugees
A refugee walks through a hallway in Sweden's largest temporary camp for asylum seekers in the former Restad Gård psychiatric hospital in VänersborgDavid Ramos/Getty Images
refugees sweden
A refugee uses a twig to try to get his letters from the Swedish Migration Agency out of a postbox at the Restad Gård psychiatric hospital in Vänersborg. Many refugees check the post every day and have to use a twig to try to get the mail out because refugees who had been housed earlier at the former school took the keys with them when they leftDavid Ramos/Getty Images
refugees sweden
A man carries carpets to set up a prayer session in the gym at the former Restad Gård psychiatric hospital in VänersborgDavid Ramos/Getty Images
refugees sweden
Refugees pray in the gym of the former Restad Gård psychiatric hospital in VänersborgDavid Ramos/Getty Images

Swedes may be politically liberal, but they are often culturally conservative: conformist, reserved and with strict social rules. Ylva Johansson, Swedish minister for employment and integration issues, says the problem is exacerbated by the fact that thousands of refugees, many young men, are not integrated into the workforce, instead languishing in asylum centres in villages and towns.

"Most Swedes are not racist," Johansson said. "But when there is this special asylum housing when they cannot work, and cannot be part of society this is really a tension. This is a dangerous situation; we have a lot of people in no-man's land ... living outside society."

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Youssef Atamini from Syria checks his mobile phone in his shared room at the Vattendroppen school in KlädesholmenDavid Ramos/Getty Images
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Refugees attend Swedish language classes at the Vattendroppen school in KlädesholmenDavid Ramos/Getty Images
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Swedish language homework is seen at the Vattendroppen school in KlädesholmenDavid Ramos/Getty Images
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Isakhan, 54, from Afghanistan, watches a video on his mobile phone in his shared room at the Vattendroppen school in KlädesholmenDavid Ramos/Getty Images
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Asylum seekers have lunch at the Vattendroppen school in KlädesholmenDavid Ramos/Getty Images
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Asylum seekers stand outside a temporary home at the Vattendroppen school in KlädesholmenDavid Ramos/Getty Images
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Female refugees take pictures by the sea in KlädesholmenDavid Ramos/Getty Images
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A refugee boy plays football as a man practises Nordic walking in KlädesholmenDavid Ramos/Getty Images
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Refugees walk on the street towards a football field in KlädesholmenDavid Ramos/Getty Images
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Muhammed, 13, from Syria, and Mahdi Ghafour, 6, from Afghanistan, play on a pier in KlädesholmenDavid Ramos/Getty Images

In a National Review article titled, Torching Utopia, Tino Sanandaji – an Iranian Kurd who grew up in Sweden – writes: "The political and media elites may love or at least pretend to love the new multiculturalist society, but polls show that the Swedish public was never particularly enthusiastic about it. A recent study found that most native Swedes never socialise with immigrants or do so only rarely.

"From the point of view of immigrants, therefore, the Swedish state is warm and generous, but Swedish society is cold and distant."

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Local Swedish students walk past a group of refugee children in a school in HalmstadDavid Ramos/Getty Images
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Girls warm up before a handball training session organised to help integrate refugees and local children in HalmstadDavid Ramos/Getty Images
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Girls in Halmstad warm up during a handball training session organised by the Skolidrottsförbundet (the Swedish School Sports Association) to help with the integration of migrants and refugees through sport activitiesDavid Ramos/Getty Images
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Sara Boije helps asylum seekers from Syria and Iraq as they attend a Swedish language class at Halmstad UniversityDavid Ramos/Getty Images
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A refugee child learns how to write the letters of the Latin alphabet at a school in HalmstadDavid Ramos/Getty Images
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Temporary houses for asylum seekers are seen in a summer holiday camp in Tylösand, west of HalmstadDavid Ramos/Getty Images
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A little girl from Afghanistan leaves her home in a summer holiday resort in Halmstad where she and her family have lived for four monthsDavid Ramos/Getty Images
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Asylum seekers from Afghanistan pose in the summer holiday camp in Halmstad that has been their home for the last four monthsDavid Ramos/Getty Images
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A young boy from Iraq rides a bicycle in a summer holiday resort in Halmstad that has been home to his family for the last four monthsDavid Ramos/Getty Images
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A walkway heading towards the beach is seen at a summer holiday resort in Halmstad, home to 20 families from Afghanistan and IraqDavid Ramos/Getty Images
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Members of the Merzai family from Afghanistan pose for a portrait at their temporary home in a summer camp in HalmstadDavid Ramos/Getty Images
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A girl from Afghanistan stands on a table at a holiday resort in HalmstadDavid Ramos/Getty Images
refugees sweden
A child watches from the window of a barracks at the Strandparken Östra Stranden summer holiday camp in HalmstadDavid Ramos/Getty Images

Sweden has been proud of its open-door policy for decades – from taking in Vietnam draft dodgers in the 1960s to Balkans war refugees in the 1990s. However, in a country where speaking out against immigration is still taboo for many, Scandinavians privately voice concerns about crowded emergency rooms and larger school classes.

Newspapers are increasingly full of stories about money being spent on refugees and reports of crime involving asylum seekers, although crime figures do not bear out these concerns. For example, despite reports of refugees being linked to sexual assaults, reported rapes fell 12% in 2015, and thefts were down two percent.

Support for Sweden's centre-left Prime Minister Stefan Löfven has fallen to record lows in polls due to popular sentiment that his government is largely helpless to stop the influx of migrants and refugees seen as threatening Sweden's generous welfare state and vaunted social stability.

Anti-immigrant, populist parties have gained support over the past year, and the far-right is vying for top spot in polls. There are signs that voters may be broadly supportive of immigrants but not in their own backyard. From welfare cuts to new ID checks, it is a trend that shows the limits of even some of Europe's most liberal societies and may represent a sea change for politics in Scandinavia.

refugees sweden
A man checks his mobile phone at the sports bar of the Hotel Arena in Halmstad. The Swedish Migration Agency pays up to 500 Swedish Krona (£41, €53) to hotels, camp sites, holidays resorts, etc, that house refugeesDavid Ramos/Getty Images
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A young refugee checks his mobile phone at the sports bar of the Hotel Arena in HalmstadDavid Ramos/Getty Images
refugees sweden
A man speaks on his mobile phone at the sports bar of the Hotel Arena in HalmstadDavid Ramos/Getty Images
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Caravans ready to host new asylum seekers are seen outside the Hotel Arena in HalmstadDavid Ramos/Getty Images
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Ghaida, 26, from Syria leaves her shared temporary house at the Tjörnbro Park holiday resort in Myggenäs. Ghaida is an architect and has been waiting for her employment permit for more than a yearDavid Ramos/Getty Images

A survey in February 2016 showed immigration was the main concern for 40% of Swedes, easily trumping worries over failing schools, joblessness and welfare. The change was the biggest opinion swing in the poll's history. Sweden had to find an extra 70,000 school places due to the influx of asylum seekers, on top of 100,000 pupils that normally enrol in the school system for the first time in any given year.

The UN refugee agency says more than one million people crossed the Mediterranean into Europe in 2015 from the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere. The European Union is considering re-introducing border controls for up to two years between some of the 26 nations in the Schengen passport-free area to deal with the migrant crisis. Each country in the zone is allowed to unilaterally put up border controls for a maximum of six months. Now, policymakers are poised to invoke an emergency provision that allows for an extension of such controls for up to two years.

EU statistics show people make 1.3 billion crossings over the union's internal borders each year, while 57 million trucks transport goods worth hundreds of billions over those same borders annually. The free passage has also allowed some 1.7 million people to live in one country and commute to work in another. Cities such as Malmö in southern Sweden and the Danish capital Copenhagen have in effect fused, reflecting how the EU has turned from a community of nations separated by borders to one of regions. But in the wake of the refugee crisis, the whole idea of open EU borders has been called into question.

Sweden reversed its open-door policy on immigration late last year and introduced identification checks at its border with Denmark in an attempt to stem the flow. The country's migration agency expects up to 140,000 asylum seekers in 2016 but the government has said it will not allow numbers to get anywhere near that, vowing to introduce further measures to curb the influx if needed. Interior minister Anders Ygeman announced Sweden was preparing to deport up to 80,000 from last year's record number of asylum seekers, saying that if they did not leave voluntarily, they would be forcibly deported.

Nearly one in five people living in Sweden is of immigrant descent. Some 38% of the 386,000 registered as unemployed in the country are non-European migrants. The IMF estimates that Sweden will spend one percent of its GDP on asylum seekers in 2016, by far the highest of 19 European nations surveyed.