Sweden, Nation of Open Arms, Debates Implications of Immigration

If you’ve been tuned in to Global Geopolitics for a while, you’ll find this whitewashed and played-down article a bit laughable, if not insulting for its attempt to hide facts and/or discredit those who are experiencing the negative effects.

The Rosengard district of Malmo, which has a large number of people with foreign backgrounds. Credit Gordon Welters for The New York Times

MALMO, Sweden — It has been only three years since she came to Sweden from Syria, but Hiba Abou Alhassane already says “we” when speaking about her new home country.

“Did we, I mean did Sweden, take too many refugees? Should we close the border?” she pondered this week after President Trump’s remarks that Sweden’s immigration policies had failed. “It already happened. People aren’t coming anymore.”

In many ways, Ms. Alhassane is a perfect example of Sweden’s long-held belief in the rightness of sheltering and helping to support migrants and refugees. She has worked hard to integrate. Already nearly fluent in Swedish, she teaches at two local primary schools.

But recently Swedes also find themselves questioning the wisdom of their generosity to outsiders in need, and its potential limits, leading to the country’s harshest debate ever over immigration.

Some residents see the clash as a refreshing chance to voice long-held concerns over immigration and its effects. Others see it as both racist and redundant, since Sweden is already changing its immigration policies.

Until a year and a half ago, Sweden offered lifetime protection, along with family reunification, to people deemed legitimate refugees. In 2015, about 163,000 people came and sought that protection, and the sheer numbers led this country of roughly 10 million to tighten the rules. Protection is now subject to review after one or three years and family reunification is more difficult, making Sweden less accessible and less attractive to immigrants.

“Sweden has been a top recipient of asylum seekers per capita in Europe, priding itself on a humanitarian approach to immigration,” said Daniel Schatz, a visiting scholar at Columbia University’s European Institute. “During the Iraq war, Sodertalje, a small Swedish municipality, took more Iraqi refugees than the U.S. and U.K. combined.”

“Sweden is experiencing a clash of ideals,” he added. “While the country seeks to maintain a humanitarian ideal, public concerns around immigration have begun to shift the politics of traditionally liberal Sweden to tighter immigration controls and more restrictive policies. The debate on migration is thus a very personal one for many Swedes.”

Mr. Trump is not the only person pointing to what he considers to be the troubling consequences of immigration to Sweden. This month, a seasoned investigator with the police department in Orebro, Peter Springare, caused a stir with a Facebook posting in which he discussed the case files on his desk.

“What I’ve been handling Monday-Friday this week: Rape, rape, serious rape, assault rape, black mail, black mail, assault in court, threats, attack against police, threats against police, drugs, serious drugs, attempted murder, rape again, black mail again and abuse,” Mr. Springare said. He went on to list the first names of the people he said were suspects, all but one of which were traditionally Middle Eastern.

But both his superiors and the police in other departments said that they did not recognize his description, and that national levels did not resemble his claims.

Still, it seems as if frustrations over the issue are spreading.

In 2014, the anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats gained 12.9 percent of the vote in parliamentary elections to become the country’s third-largest party, up from only 2.9 percent eight years earlier.

“Shunned by mainstream parties, their stance is increasingly resonating with some voters,” Mr. Schatz said.

Some of the party’s progress has to do with residents’ perceptions of crime, a significant issue here in Malmo, Sweden’s third-largest city with about 350,000 people, which is often called the “Chicago of the Nordic region.” The reference is not to its icy, windswept shores. The murder rate in Malmo is the highest among Scandinavian countries: 3.4 annually per 100,000 citizens, compared with 1.3 in Stockholm, the capital.

That has earned Malmo an unsavory reputation well beyond Sweden’s borders, but the assessment lacks context: Chicago’s homicide rate was 28 per 100,000 citizens last year, and Saint Louis’s was 59, according to one analysis. A murder in Malmo remains so rare that it still generates headlines nationwide.

More than 40 percent of the city’s residents or their parents are foreign-born, a fact that is often linked to Malmo’s crime rates, but Mr. Gerell, the criminologist, said a correlation was not clear, and even if there was one, immigration was not the only contributing factor.

“Immigration has most likely played a part in the crime rates,” he said. “But we have many, many poor people living in poor areas so it’s not only about immigration. That said, poverty doesn’t necessarily cause crime, but when there are lots of social problems there will be more of other problems.”

Maher Dabour, who came to Sweden from Lebanon in the 1980s, said the main problem lay in how migrants are schooled in societal differences.

“They didn’t manage to explain to us how to be citizens,” he said. “In legal terms it’s not difficult, and they’ve been more than generous, but it’s not enough to give money.”

Thirty years after leaving Lebanon, Mr. Dabour drives a Volvo and instinctively buckles his seatbelt like a Swede, but he breaks with tradition and chain smokes.

He said that Swedes had built a society based on the individual’s respect for the state, discipline and rules, but that many newly arrived people come with no respect for, or trust in, government authorities, but great regard for family and elders.

“The authorities say everything is O.K. and in order, but it’s not true,” Mr. Dabour said. “We need to have an open and honest discussion about the problems,” he added, referring to crime among immigrants.

In Malmo, the Rosengard district has for years been named by the national police as having a high crime rate, although that has improved recently. It is home to 25,000 people, 86 percent of them with foreign backgrounds. Low-rent housing is clustered around a shopping center, where shops bear names like Noor, Najib and Orient Musik.

In a Turkish restaurant, a Syrian refugee, Mohammed Hoppe, was clearing tables and washing dishes. He said he had been too busy to keep up with Mr. Trump’s remarks about Sweden, but after three and a half years in the country, he hadn’t seen anything bad happen.

And for her part, Ms. Alhassane, was not interested in the comments, either.

“Honestly, everything coming from the U.S. these days is a kind of joke,” she said. “I wasn’t even curious to find out if what he said was true. I didn’t need to.”

Full article: Sweden, Nation of Open Arms, Debates Implications of Immigration (The New York Times)

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