Monday

17th Dec 2018

Opinion

Sweden must be able to say No to refugees

  • Old docks in Landskrona: Swedish industry no longer able to provide jobs, as it did in 1950s (Photo: News Oresund)

I am 33 years old and live in Landskrona in southern Sweden, 45 kilometers north of Malmo. Landskrona has taken more immigrants and refugees than most Swedish cities and tends to be ahead of the rest of the country when it comes to the political debate on what in Sweden is referred to as “the integration problem."

Here, the far-right party, the Swedish Democrats, received record support in the national and local elections a decade ago. It was also in Landskrona that leading politicians from the established parties first treated the Swedish Democrats as a normal party.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

In Landskrona, we no longer have fiery debates about segregated schools and housing, because the integration process - which in reality is more of a separation process - is now reaching completion.

Neither me, nor my children have ever lived a single day of our lives in an integrated society.

What we now see in Landskrona and other Swedish cities is an established parallel society, which has emerged alongside the traditional Swedish society, with segregated beaches, grocery stores, restaurants and sport activities.

In short, I live in a completely segregated society and there is a lot suggesting that Landskrona’s development is to be expected in other Swedish cities as well, not least with the record level of refugees coming to Sweden this year.

The question

The question we Swedes need to ask ourselves is if it really is possible to build a functioning society from all these individuals?

In my work as a lecturer and researcher in political science at Lund University and Linnaeus University, I have had many, long conversations with colleagues, who, in contrast to me, tend to live far away from the downtrodden neighbourhoods where most of the immigrants/refugees live.

In all conversations I have had with my political science colleagues, I always ask the same question: tell me the name of a single Swedish politician who comes even close to formulating something that resembles a solution to the integration problem in Sweden?

There is no one who can answer that question.

Different Swedish governments have for the past 20 years tried integration from the left to the right to the center and back again so many times that it resembles Albert Einstein’s definition of madness: "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

The only radical alternative on the table is to adopt the American model of minimum-wage jobs. This would without a doubt reduce the integration problem and the alienation that many immigrants feel, but it would also be end of the Swedish model and the welfare state as we know it.

This “solution of the right” seems to have limited support in Sweden today, even if the Conservative party probably will end up calling for minimum-wage jobs as the solution to the integration problem in the future.

A “solution of the left” would be to pump even more money into the neighbourhoods where most immigrants/refugees live, a strategy which has been tried and has failed many times before.

Between left and right

Between the left and the right in Swedish politics, there is not much hope, even if the Liberal party embarked on a serious, but now abandoned strategy for integration 15 years ago.

Thinking Swedes have long ago realized that the gap between what the labour market demands and what many immigrants/refugees can offer will only grow as the forces of globalisation accelerate and the competition from Asia increases.

No Swedish politician can today tell a 20-year old immigrant without job and even without a high school diploma what he should do with his life.

As the global economy looks today, there are all reasons to believe that Sweden’s integration problem only will deepen, with dire long-term social consequences for the country.

When I finished high school in Landskrona in 2001, the school had five natural science classes and four social science classes among the graduation classes. This year’s graduation had only one of each.

There are many reasons why it looks like this, but the reforms to introduce private schools and allow students to apply for elementary and high schools outside their communities and municipalities have had a very negative effect for cities like my hometown.

High-performing students, often those with an ethnically Swedish background, applied for schools outside Landskrona, while low-performing students, many with an immigrant background, remained.

When I returned to my old elementary school last month to give a guest lecture to a ninth grade class on my research topic, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, not a single student in a class of 25 knew what the term anti-Semitism meant or how many Jews were killed in the Holocaust.

WWII parallels

During this current refugee crisis, many commentators refer to World War II as an historic parallel, when Sweden took in a lot of refugees just like it does today. But this is a false parallel because the Swedish industry of the late 1940s and early 1950s provided jobs for all the immigrants.

This, of course, is not the case today, when post-industrialised countries like Sweden have less and less of traditional industries.

The real parallel, if there is any, is the urbanisation process of the second half of the 19th century, when Swedish cities were filled with people who were unqualified for the labor market of the time, and instead ended up in city slums with social misery, alcoholism and violence – the integration problems of that time.

With much hard work, the Swedish state managed with time to provide jobs, housing, education and other welfare services to all.

This, in turn, enabled Sweden, overwhelmingly under the leadership of the Social Democrats, to develop one of the most advanced models for how to run a society that the world has ever seen.

Sweden today is facing the same kind of challenges with the same need of finding solutions as it did in the late 19th century.

What we see in places like my hometown Landskrona is not just social misery, but a modern form of serfdom, where people live their whole lives without being able to provide for themselves.

When I walk around in Landskrona’s immigrant neighbourhoods, I often think to myself that I have no idea whatsoever what is going on just a kilometre away from my home.

It also strikes me that nearly all the apartments in immigrant neighbourhoods have closed curtains in the windows, almost like small fortresses where the people inside have isolated themselves from the surrounding society.

Brains, hearts

Regardless of where one stands politically, a sound society should take in as many immigrants/refugees as it could reasonably handle.

The problem is that this limit was reached 20 years ago in places like my hometown. More Swedish cities have reached their limits after that and many more are reaching their limits now.

In this crisis situation, Swedes should not “open their hearts” as former prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt told them to do in a memorable, but unrealistic speech, before last year’s election, which he lost.

Instead, all Swedes must open their brains, first to get the situation under control and then to find solutions. The first measure the Swedish government should take is to stop or at least massively reduce the inflow of refugees to Sweden.

The country must be able to say No.

Anders Persson is a political scientist at Lund University and Linnaeus University, Sweden

Sweden to tap Hungary's EU relocation quota

Sweden, which hosts the most asylum seekers per capita, has asked other EU states to relocate some people under a quota originally designed for Hungary.

Sweden reintroduces border controls

Sweden becomes fourth EU and Schengen state to introduce emergency border controls, citing overwhelming migrant numbers. Denmark could be next.

Norway turns back migrants without visas

Norway, a non-EU member of the passport-free Schengen area, plans to toughen immigration rules including turning back aslyum seekers from Sweden and other countries trying to enter without a visa.

Fiscal discipline rules in eurozone are devastating

New rules are needed that do not place the heaviest burdens on a few countries, but ensure that all countries benefit from the euro. Avoiding imbalances in trade between countries can do this.

Brexit, migration, cities - and the UN pact

It's not surprising that a handful of nationalist European governments – Hungary, Austria, the Czech Republic, Poland and Italy – have followed Trump's lead in rejecting the UN's migration pact, to be formally adopted in Marrakech next week.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General

Latest News

  1. EU gives Switzerland another six months for a deal
  2. Fiscal discipline rules in eurozone are devastating
  3. EU capitals see weekend of tear gas and water cannon
  4. Bulgarian 'EU passports' whistleblower wants justice
  5. No more Brexit talks, despite May's pleas
  6. EU leaders stuck on asylum reform
  7. Orban and other PMs spread fake news, says Juncker
  8. Fishing quota and no-deal Brexit preparation This WEEK

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs
  2. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  3. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  4. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  5. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  6. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  8. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  10. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  2. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  3. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  5. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  6. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  8. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  9. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development
  10. Counter BalanceEuropean Ombudsman Requests More Lending Transparency from European Investment Bank
  11. FIFARecycling at the FIFA World Cup in Russia
  12. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us