Since the beginning of the Iraq war Sweden has accepted more Iraqi refugees than any western country. Last year alone one city in Sweden, Södertälje, took in more Iraqi refugees than all of the United States. It’s a noble cause. And something that Swedes are proud of. As they should be. However, as more and more refugees, not just from Iraq, but Afghanistan and Somalia as well, come to Sweden, a need for immigration reform has arisen.
With the influx of immigrants, mostly refugees, Sweden has cracked down on who and how many people get to come and stay in Sweden. The immigration board has cut down drastically on the number of people granted asylum in Sweden. According to the UN the percentage of refugees allowed to stay has fallen since 2006 from 80% to 70% to just 25% through the beginning of 2008. This has led to a large number of immigrants “disappearing.” They have gone underground. The new policy was obviously meant to curb the number of immigrants coming to the country. No matter the intentions, a country can only absorb so many people before problems arise. Social problems. Economic problems.
The economic problem has been receiving a bit of press lately. An opinion piece in Dagens Nyheter today by immigration minister Tobias Billström, social services secretary Ulf Kristersson, and Elisabeth Svantesson a member of parliament, is calling for even more changes. The Local has done a good job of summarizing the article in English. From the original article we see that the three are concerned about the Social Welfare system being taken advantage of. Sweden prides itself on helping people in need. That’s what the taxes are for. But sometimes cracks emerge. And when a large influx of people enters the country with no ties it stands to reason that they will be using the system for a while.
In the very first paragraph the group writes: “…ingen tjänar på en politik där alla invandrare ses som offer - och behandlas därefter.” Whether the group believes this themselves, that Sweden sees immigrants as victims and treats them as such, may be debatable. But it is important to note as the article continues.
The article says that one of the main problems is: “Sverige präglas i dag för mycket av några särdrag som försvårar framgångsrik invandring. Tydligast är den kravlöshet som accepterar att arbetsföra människor - oavsett etnicitet och ursprung - under långa perioder lever på bidrag i stället för att fullt ut ta ansvar för sin egen försörjning.”
Basically, there is a misplaced attitude of acceptance that people are living on the system for long periods of time instead of taking responsibility for supporting themselves. Perhaps it is here that the group believes the politics of treating immigrants as victims has become a problem.
The article goes on to say: “Av dem som får uppehållstillstånd och deltar i kommunal introduktion är bara var femte självförsörjande efter två och ett halvt år med uppehållstillstånd.”
After two and a half years, only 20% of those who have been allowed to stay in Sweden and are involved in an introduction to Sweden are able to support themselves. Of those who are allowed to stay, many flock to the same neighborhoods. People feel most comfortable around those they see as similar to themselves. So little communities of refugees arise. The Iraqi community in Södertälje for example.
Now, it may seem that this is a dig at the immigrants who are coming to Sweden. That they are living off the system. That they aren’t working. That they are lazy and taking advantage of Sweden’s benevolence. And maybe that attitude plays a role. Maybe it’s the same sort of immigration issues that can be seen in the US. But in all fairness the group also brings up Sweden’s desire for svenskhet. Swedishness. Which immigrants are often lacking.
The group acknowledges that Sweden is a bit different than other parts of the world. They point out that Sweden acknowledges: “… barns, kvinnors och sexuella minoriteters individuella rättigheter och ställer dem framför familj, klan, grupp och kultur.” So children, women, and sexual minorities are placed above family, clan, groups, or culture.
I’ll be honest; my first thought when reading this was that it reeked of underhanded racism considering the culture of the majority of refugees and immigrants coming to Sweden. That is up to you to decide on your own though.
Anyway, the group admits that the cultural mores that are easiest to adhere to are those that already fit what an immigrant believes. So if you come from a county where family trumps individuals, you might struggle to adapt here in Sweden. And here’s where it gets interesting. Swedes, as I have mentioned before, have a tendency to avoid conflict. It has served them well; one need only look at the fact that the country has been untouched by war for about 200 years. However, it is not just in the world arena that they avoid conflict but also at home. In the smallest of arenas. And so, Sweden struggles to communicate the rules, culture, and mores that Swedes live by to those new to the country for fear of insulting someone. However, if these ideas are not communicated, the group fears that serious conflicts are sure to arise.
So it’s a Catch-22. Immigrants come to this country and are treated as victims, allowed to live off of the state, with only 20% being self-sufficient after two and a half years. They are expected to be Swedish but never become Swedish. Not necessarily because they don’t want to but because they don’t know how. And because they are not considered Swedish enough they have less of a chance of getting a job because they lack one inherent quality – Swedishness.
The group suggests a few different things. One is making sure that those who come to this country understand the values, rules, laws, and cultural mores that Swedes live by. That takes care of the whole Swedishness thing. They want to make sure that various sectors jobbar vit, are working white. That is to say not black and under the table. The group wants to see a political attitude that accepts immigration and emigration as something positive and something that can benefit Swedish society as a whole.
And remember that whole economic problem where 80% of immigrants were still living off the social welfare system after having arrived in the country? And that they are living in the same areas? While the social democrats want to mandate where they live, this group thinks the best way to solve this problem is to find them a job. And of course, in a very Swedish way, they propose some sort of economic incentives. Now these incentives aren’t spelled out in detail. But what I see happening is more money being thrown around. Of course, if the amount of welfare that is paid out drops markedly then it all ends up for the better. I just find it interesting that the Swedes believe the best way to get people off social welfare in terms of economic benefits is to offer them economic benefits to get a job. It seems to me that welfare should be enough to live off of, but not so much that there is not enough of an incentive to want to find a job.
It’s easy to read between the lines here. As immigration continues, some inside of Sweden fear that a crisis is imminent. That the Swedish way of life must be preserved. I’m not really sure what will happen. But in the year that I have been here I have watched as immigration has become more and more of a national topic of discussion. Fewer and fewer immigrants are allowed into the country. More and more legislation is discussed that will curb immigration. I believe that immigration in Sweden finds itself at a crossroad. It is obvious that Sweden believes something must be done. The question is how far this country will go that for so long has prided itself on it’s openness. It’s acceptance. It’s social welfare system.
Welcome to Sweden. Kind of.