How Sweden, the most open country in the world, was overwhelmed by migrants

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A man ascends on an escalator as signs put up by the Sweden Democrats political party are seen at Ostermalmstorg subway station in Stockholm Photo: REUTERS

 

Sweden used to pride itself on giving a warm welcome to outsiders. But as the refugee crisis grows, so too does its sense of injustice

When it opened 15 years ago, the Öresund Bridge was seen as a glistening symbol of the new Europe. Sweden and Denmark had been joined together by a motorway with no border controls, fusing together economies and even blurring national identities. Many Swedes in Malmö have come to relish the city’s growing reputation as a suburb of Copenhagen, just half an hour away by train. It seemed to embody many dreams about the future: a continent where national borders would come to mean nothing. That dream was shattered at noon today.

This has been painful for everyone, but devastating for Sweden because its main political parties barely know how to respond. Openness is the closest thing the Swedes have to a national religion, this policy is visibly failing – and there is no back-up plan.

The headlines now suggest a country that is coming apart. Just last month, an asylum centre in the picturesque town of Munkedal was set alight, the latest in a series of arson attacks against refugees. Anti-Semitic incidents in Malmö have raised such concern that Swedes have now started “kippa walks”, gathering in their hundreds to accompany Jews home from the synagogue in a show of solidarity. The Sweden Democrats, a party routinely denounced by Swedish media as “neo-fascist”, is now leading in the national opinion polls. Economically, Sweden remains strong. But politically, it’s in crisis.

The problem stems from its famous openness. Swedes have long seen their country as a humanitarian superpower – one that may avoid military conflict, but stands in the front line of helping the world’s dispossessed. In the late Sixties, it welcomed Eastern Europeans who fled the Soviets, my wife’s parents among them. They were given everything by this wonderful country – food, accommodation, lessons in Swedish and even help to make sure their Stockholm-born daughters could still speak Czech. My family is one of many with reason to be grateful for Sweden’s habit of treating its openness as an article of faith.

But this became the problem. When the migration situation changed, Swedish policy did not. The numbers now arriving were never envisaged: this year alone, almost 200,000 are expected to arrive in this sparsely populated country. Adjust for population size, and it’s like Britain finding space for a refugee population the size of Birmingham each year. Sweden’s immigration agency has already run out of beds, and has been accommodating asylum-seekers at its head office.

During the summer, I spent a few days at the Swedish political festival in Almedalen, in the island of Gotland. It was, itself, an advert for openness: an open-air party conference with no security checks. The Prime Minister wanders around, addressing anyone who pulls up a chair. At the time, David Cameron’s election victory was being much discussed. The Swedes were taken aback, some even appalled, at the language used: stopping migrants from claiming benefits for four years? Pulling out of the European Union? How can a globally minded nation like Britain have such dirty-sounding politics?

The explanation is simple: Britain is a country that dislikes immigration, but loves immigrants. In Sweden, sadly, it’s the other way around. Britons fret about border controls, but we don’t hesitate to hire immigrants when they arrive. In Sweden, immigrants are twice as likely to be unemployed as natives, one of the worst ratios in the developed world. Accepting immigration at such a level, while being unable to integrate it, is the recipe not just for a political crisis but a national identity crisis.

Full article: How Sweden, the most open country in the world, was overwhelmed by migrants (The Telegraph)

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